Head of Kelowna RCMP defends handling of protests opposing COVID-19 restrictions

·3 min read
Kelowna RCMP Supt. Kara Triance says she is seeking balance between public order and protesters' right to peaceful assembly. (RCMP - image credit)
Kelowna RCMP Supt. Kara Triance says she is seeking balance between public order and protesters' right to peaceful assembly. (RCMP - image credit)

The head of the Kelowna RCMP is defending her force's management of recurring protests against provincial health measures to contain COVID-19 in light of a recent court ruling that she interprets as favouring people's right to protest.

On March 18, B.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson said the public health orders unjustifiably violated the right of Dawson Creek, B.C., man Alain Beaudoin to organize public protests in December.

But on the other hand, the judge also said public health mandates against large gatherings are necessary to stop the transmission of coronavirus.

Beaudoin petitioned the court to quash the $2,300 ticket he received for helping to organize a protest, but the judge declined to overturn the fine.

About 1,000 people attended a rally in Kelowna, B.C., on Dec. 12, 2020 against provincial health restrictions intended to curb the spread of COVID-19.
About 1,000 people attended a rally in Kelowna, B.C., on Dec. 12, 2020 against provincial health restrictions intended to curb the spread of COVID-19. (Brady Strachan/CBC)

Supt. Kara Triance notes that while she isn't a constitutional lawyer, she believes the court ruling establishes the freedom of peaceful assembly among those who have been protesting public health restrictions in Kelowna every Saturday since December.

"I need to make sure that I am striking a balance between what those provincial health orders are and what that supreme [charter rights] legislation within Canada is," Triance said Tuesday to Chris Walker, host of CBC's Daybreak South.

Triance affirmed her interpretation of the court decision in a video statement released Friday.

WATCH | Kelowna RCMP Supt. Kara Triance's joint statement with Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran on anti-mask rallies

"We continue to attempt to dissuade protests and gatherings, but when they take place, the RCMP is present to ensure the safety of the public and the protesters, and to prevent confrontations," Triance said in the statement.

Some Kelowna residents were taken aback to see police cars escorting anti-mask demonstrators in the city over the past several weekends.

Triance said Kelowna RCMP have been enforcing laws in response to criticism from the local community that the police aren't taking any action.

"There have been charges [in the form of violation tickets] laid in every instance since January on the matters that we're seeing striking downtown Kelowna in Stuart Park," she said. "All of those violation tickets still stand there at $2,000 apiece, and these matters are being brought before the court."

Kelowna RCMP officers attended an anti-mask rally in Stuart Park on Jan. 9.
Kelowna RCMP officers attended an anti-mask rally in Stuart Park on Jan. 9. (Heather Friesen)

Simon Fraser University criminology professor Rob Gordon says the B.C. Supreme Court ruling attempts to strike a balance between civil liberty and public health mandates, but he isn't sure about the ruling's implication on how the police should approach protests during the pandemic.

Gordon says he would recommend Supt. Triance seek legal advice from her superiors within the B.C. RCMP.

"You cannot expect a superintendent of a detachment in the Interior of B.C. to be an expert on constitutional law," he said.

Simon Fraser University criminology professor Rob Gordon says the B.C. Supreme Court ruling is ambiguous about how the police should approach protests under public health restrictions.
Simon Fraser University criminology professor Rob Gordon says the B.C. Supreme Court ruling is ambiguous about how the police should approach protests under public health restrictions.(Simon Fraser University)

"It would be unwise to proceed to do something that is going to lead to negative consequences down the road — and in particular, the negative consequences for the RCMP and conceivably for the municipality. It's not clear to me which way an enforcer of the law should go with it [the court decision]."

Gordon also says he expects the province to appeal the decision to the B.C. Court of Appeal.

"There needs to be clarity," he said.

Tap the link below to hear Supt. Kara Triance's interview on Daybreak South: