Calgary police chief says the time to debate COVID-19 laws is not 'on the rink'

·3 min read

Calgary's police chief says there's a time and place to debate the legitimacy of laws and punishments, but not when police are enforcing them.

"I want to be crystal clear. We do not live in a society where a person can pick and choose the laws they follow," Chief Mark Neufeld said Monday.

"Laws become unenforceable if people are free to simply walk away from officers without identifying themselves. There is a time and a place to debate laws and to argue your innocence and that is in the courts. It is not at the roadside. It is not in the park and it is not on the ice."

Neufeld was alluding to an incident caught on video last Thursday that showed officers arresting a 21-year-old man at an outdoor skating rink for allegedly violating a public health order and resisting arrest.

There were also two arrests at an anti-mask, anti-restrictions protest in front of City Hall.

Provincial health orders bar outside gatherings. Those in violation can be hit with tickets that start at $1,000. Calgary's mask bylaw carries fines starting at $100.

Five criminal charges from protest

The chief said police understand people are frustrated and said officers are as well. He said officers will not seek to punish those confused by the rules and often manage to get voluntary compliance after a conversation.

He said there is a clear difference between those who are confused by the rules and those who don't agree with them.

"I can tell you that no police officer wants to be the person stopping others from enjoying normal activities," he said.

But he added the rules need to be followed in order to bring down the rates of infections.

As for protests, Neufeld said the recent arrests at a protest on the weekend, where crowds gathered around officers, shows why officers tend to issue tickets after the event in order to avoid tension in the midst of the crowd.

He said there were five criminal charges stemming from the protest, including assaulting a police officer and obstructing a police officer and resisting arrest. Although he did not have an exact figure, he said about 30 tickets were handed out on Saturday and Sunday.

Neufeld said they've changed their strategy from targeting organizers to targeting participants, especially those who regularly show up for the protests.

Public complaints

Last week, police received 500 calls from members of the public, said Neufeld, reporting perceived violations of public health orders, ranging from reports of parties to too many people on a rink.

"I'd also caution those who would seek to improperly use public health order and restrictions by calling in the neighbour you don't like or your ex, or whomever," he said.

Ryan Pleckaitis, the chief bylaw officer for Calgary, said the number of people allowed on an outdoor rink will depend on the surface size, but for a typical 200-foot rink it would be a maximum of 50 people at once.

"We understand that some people are frustrated with the new health orders, and we encourage them to find lawful ways to express their concerns with elected officials," he said.

"Breaking the rules does not address the issue. To create difficult situations in an already difficult time will extend the time that we are under this public health order."

Both men said the vast majority of Calgarians are following the rules and are sacrificing in order to combat the virus.