Saskatoon police aim to crack down on pandemic-restriction protests by outing attendees

·3 min read
A Saskatoon police officer watches attendees from a distance at a rally against pandemic restrictions held at the Vimy Memorial at Kiwanis Park in Saskatoon on April 24. (Kayle Neis/The Canadian Press - image credit)
A Saskatoon police officer watches attendees from a distance at a rally against pandemic restrictions held at the Vimy Memorial at Kiwanis Park in Saskatoon on April 24. (Kayle Neis/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Saskatoon police are trying a new tactic to catch attendees violating public health orders at rallies against those pandemic-related rules.

This week, the Saskatoon Police Service started sharing photos online of people they say attended a May 9 "freedom rally" in the city. Police posted 41 photos Thursday and asked the public to help identify the people in them.

Saskatoon police Chief Troy Cooper said the photos were taken by police officers who were monitoring the event from the ground.

It's common for both uniformed officers and undercover police to take photos during an investigation, Cooper said, but he was unsure if both were present at the May 9 event.

So far, the method seems to be working. Within 24 hours, most of the people were identified and their photos have been removed from the police service's website. All suspects will be fined under the public health order, Cooper said.

As of Friday, 48 tickets have been written for people who attended the May 9 rally.

While posting photos of suspects online is not an unusual tactic, it's the first time Saskatoon police have used this tool in relation to the public health order.

"There's a lot of pressure on police, particularly in Saskatoon, to up the response to the protest," said Brian Pfefferle, a Saskatoon defence lawyer. "A law without enforcement is not a law."

He says the idea is to generate tips, "much like they do on a Crime Stoppers tip or a wanted page."

However, "it's important to remember just because police are looking for someone doesn't mean that person is guilty.... Sometimes they're wrong," said Pfefferle.

Police asked to step up enforcement

Initially, Saskatoon police said they were targeting organizers. However, they increased overall enforcement after a request from public health officials, said Cooper.

"We weren't able to actually identify all of the people breaching the public health orders and issue tickets, so this is another way for us to try and identify some of those people that were involved," he said.

Chief Troy Cooper says Saskatoon police have increased enforcement after a request from public health officials.
Chief Troy Cooper says Saskatoon police have increased enforcement after a request from public health officials.(Don Somers/CBC)

Pfefferle said this tool can be effective because the shame associated may stop people from attending future events.

"There might be a situation where someone says, 'You know, I work in a job where my profile is important, and I don't want my picture on the most-wanted list … on the Saskatoon police website that's getting circulated on social media,'" Pfefferle said.

Saskatoon police are not only stepping up enforcement — they're being vocal about it.

This week, the police service issued a public notice saying it will be enforcing public health orders at two anti-restriction rallies that are scheduled to take place in Saskatoon over the long weekend.

An organizer gives an opening speech during the April 24 rally at the Vimy Memorial at Kiwanis Park.
An organizer gives an opening speech during the April 24 rally at the Vimy Memorial at Kiwanis Park.(Kayle Neis/The Canadian Press)

Enforcement will include both uniformed officers and "less visible" officers, police said.

"This is sort of unprecedented as well, sort of the idea that they would indicate there's going to be a police presence prior to anything happening," Pfefferle said.

According to Saskatchewan's Public Safety Agency, there have been 279 tickets issued to people accused of violating public health orders since the pandemic began.

Saskatoon police say they have issued 88 tickets for similar violations.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting