Mixed opinions on Pallister's snitch line

·7 min read

Bradonites offered a variety of thoughts and opinions when The Brandon Sun sought to gauge readers’ views on Premier Brian Pallister’s announcement this week about the government starting up a COVID-19 enforcement tip line.

As case numbers in Manitoba are spiking out of control, the province is devising 11th-hour methods to inhibit the spread of the illness that has devastated communities worldwide. One of those methods is to spend $2.5 million to help provincial and municipal partners enforce rules by creating a dedicated tip line so people can report violations of public health orders.

The province is rolling out those funds to help with one-day virtual training sessions for enforcement officers, and for things such as identification vests and ticket books, as the Winnipeg Free Press reported.

The Sun requested input from readers on its Facebook page. Grammatical corrections were made for readability.

Some readers recalled the Conservative Party of Canada’s campaign promise, as it sought reelection, to start a tip line for reporting "barbaric cultural practices" in 2015.

"Sounds like Harper’s snitch line, probably not a good idea," Bob Lamport stated, referring to former prime minister Stephen Harper, who lost the election that year.

"Nothing like turning neighbours against neighbours," stated Lloyd Holland.

Reagan Rome seemed in agreement.

"So the government is encouraging you to report your neighbours if they don’t follow the new rule of gathering numbers. Before following this advice you should really consider the fact that the government won’t be there to help you jump start your car or lend you tools or a cup of sugar if you needed it," said Rome.

"They won’t be an extra set of eyes to watch over your property if you are away. They won’t keep an eye on your kids if they are playing in the street and someone strange is hanging around. We need each other. It’s how we get by and live in peace, because at the end of the day the government won’t be standing on your door step to help you out when this gets real."

Other readers focused on the financial aspect of such enforcement measures — stating the $2.5 million could be better spent elsewhere.

"Shouldn’t these resources be aimed at helping with contact tracing and testing," asked Paige Johal.

She suggested that money could be used on increased staffing to help out an over-worked and under-protected health care system.

Jeff Reid, though, came back with a question: How many valuable resources will be wasted in the health-care system during the fallout of that house party when COVID spreads like it has been in Winnipeg?

"Doctors have better things to do than care for people who have coronavirus because groups of ignorant, selfish, science-denying people are acting as super spreaders," he stated.

Mandy Mosionier-Landers definitively stated she is not in favour of a tip line.

"The RCMP is already stretched so thin in rural areas. Having to go to a house because there may be too many people seems like a waste of valuable resources," she said. "The RCMP have better things to do than count heads in a house."

In fact, the RCMP put out a news release this week, as it reported on enforcement of public health orders, asking the public not to call 911. It referred people to the province’s phone line. Between Oct. 26 and Nov. 1, the Manitoba RCMP received 182 calls related to COVID-19.

Along those same lines, Susan Edgar stated, "We get calls at the hospital asking who they can call to report violations. Hopefully, they will contact this number instead now."

In reply to Reid, Mosionier-Landers said, "Maybe ask Brian (Pallister) why he fired over 500 health-care workers and cut thousands of jobs, as well as closed many ERs all over Manitoba. Maybe our system could handle it (COVID-19) if they still were open."

Timothy M. Wall did agree with the premise of a tip line.

"As long as people have factual evidence," he said.

Indeed, Pallister said — when asked what is being done to make sure people aren’t going to report others in bad faith — he did not expect that to be a concern, citing the good nature of Manitobans.

"I think Manitobans care too much about beating COVID to use the tip line for pranks," Pallister said, which is somewhat ironic, as the government is forced to come up with additional measures to make people adhere to public health orders.

Wall’s comment included: "I also think Mr. Pallister needs to take some responsibility for opening up too quickly. To those who don’t comply, you might be responsible for someone’s needless suffering, or death. Please don’t let that happen."

Kim Holleman Slator echoed Wall.

"Snitch away," she said. "If you follow the rules that the province has had to make then you have nothing to worry about. We have to think about the entire world’s health safety right now and those who are only thinking of themselves need to be accountable. It takes a community."

Some readers expressed dismay at people’s disregard for others during this pandemic, which has led us to this moment.

"It is really too bad that it has come to this. If people had been careful and the numbers hadn’t have got so high this wouldn’t even be a consideration. I sure don’t like the idea of snitching on people," stated Deb Alcock.

"The health-care system is getting overloaded. What are they supposed to do? It’s getting to be a desperate situation, and many people have not been taking the advice and COVID rules seriously. The government is getting frustrated. They don’t know what else to do, obviously."

Then, somewhere in the middle, stood those who felt neutral. As these are public health orders, created for the safety of all, all should be invested in protecting each other.

"I’m neutral ... I feel like if you’re doing what you’re supposed to, following guidelines, staying within your bubble then there isn’t anything to worry about," stated Nicole Funk.

"The people who can’t seem to follow guidelines, and distance … attend parties, leading to the rise in cases will have the problem with ‘being caught,’ but maybe more enforcement is a good route at the moment!"

Andrew Cymbalisty said enforcement has never been the issue. He said the issues are that the health line is overtaxed — with six-hour waits — the online system not kept updated in real time, and testing results taking far too long.

"Most people don’t have sick time they can rely on when waiting for their results — and the nature of this virus for the majority of people is mild enough that when faced with a) work through it and get paid or b) go home and make 1/2 of your regular wage through EI for a week while you wait for results, they’re just choosing not to get tested," he said.

"Stop trying to control people. Get access to rapid testing, report the results in real time, get people back to work that don’t have COVID-19. And, if they do, then give them the support necessary to do what they have to do to keep themselves and their families safe."

Cymbalisty added if the government really wanted to stem the spread of COVID-19, it would focus on those issues.

"Not fining people ridiculous amounts of money in an economy that has already drastically affected their earnings."

For Ian Brennan, a tip line is divisive.

"Not a good idea to divide people, as we are so divided already," he said. "Maybe bringing in ideas about uniting people is what is needed? What a prick this man (Pallister) is."

He wasn’t alone in pointing to where the $2.5 million should be directed.

"Maybe instead they should put more operators on the health links COVID line and fix the website so that people don’t have to wait 4+ hours on hold to get their test results," Melissa Spence said.

Yet, other readers took the opportunity to post gifs and memes.

One gif is a clip from Pallister’s Nov. 2 televised news conference. The premier can be clearly seen using his face mask like a handkerchief after he had removed it and placed it on the desk he is sitting at.

The enforcement tip line number is 204-945-3744 or toll-free at 1-866-626-4862, then select option three.

Michèle LeTourneau, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun