A deputy chief with the Saskatoon Police Service (SPS) says the service probably should have suggested the People's Party of Canada election night event be cancelled because of the party's intent to flout provincial restrictions.
Maxime Bernier spoke to a crowd of hundreds of people — many of them not wearing masks — at the Saskatoon Inn and Conference Centre on Sept. 20 following Canada's 44th federal election. Saskatchewan had reinstated a mask mandate for indoor public spaces days before.
"The vast majority" of event attendees were in violation of the provincial public health order, said Randy Huisman, Saskatoon Police Service deputy chief.
Huisman said police were notified of the event on Sept. 17. He said SPS could have asked the hotel to cancel the event and, in hindsight, should have.
"If I were to rewind pre-event this time, we would have probably had further discussion with the hotel and stated, well ahead of time, that we believe there's going to be a lot of people here going against the masking order and it would probably be prudent for you to cancel this event."
Huisman said if he had been aware of a tweet the party put out suggesting it was going to ignore provincial restrictions, he would have advised the hotel to cancel the booking.
Police chose not to enforce order on election night
SPS was criticized for its lack of action on the night of the event, but Huisman said it was a prudent decision not to intervene after the event had begun.
"These crowds, there's a dynamic there that they can escalate pretty quickly," he said. "We don't want to turn it into an all-out disturbance because of a ticket.
"I just want to reassure [the public] that to do safe, effective investigations for our staff and the public, sometimes we can't be doing it right then and there," Huisman said.
Huisman said that other factors, like how peaceful the event was and how contained the event was, contributed to their decision. He said SPS made the right decision and believes many of those intentionally defying restrictions will be ticketed.
That could include Bernier and other party members.
Police were present at the event gathering "intelligence and information," and investigators have also garnered tips from social media, Huisman said.
Now they will work with public health inspectors to review videos and use open source media, police databases and tips to determine who has breached the public health order.
He said he couldn't elaborate on police tactics, but did confirm plainclothes officers were at the event.
So far, no tickets have been issued for attendees at the event.
Scofflaws can be given a $2,800 fine — or more if it's not their first ticket — and organizations can be handed tickets of $14,000. Huisman said the hotel will not be fined for hosting because staff contacted police beforehand with concerns.
Huisman said he expects the investigation to be completed in the next two weeks.