Saskatchewan’s NDP Opposition leader wants the government to consider a provincewide amnesty on fines related to violations of COVID-19 health orders.
Ryan Meili says people are getting inconsistent messages from Premier Scott Moe and his Saskatchewan Party government.
Moe has said public health officials are to educate people first about limits on gatherings, then look to fines if that advice is disregarded.
Four cases of COVID-19 have been identified in a group of 60 people who attended two large family gatherings earlier this month in Saskatoon, leading to a declared community outbreak.
The health authority hasn’t disclosed details, but says officials decided to educate those involved and no one has been fined.
Meili said that sends a strange message, considering that at the end of March, RCMP in northern Saskatchewan charged 11 people inside an SUV with violating the order that prohibits gatherings of more than 10 people.
“The messaging on what needs to happen and what people need to do needs to be clear and consistent, and so does the enforcement,” Meili said Friday in an interview with The Canadian Press.
“Why not clear the deck to date? And then going forward have a real clear guideline of who would be charged and why.”
Meili later deleted a tweet about his position after learning more about the case involving the people in the SUV.
At the time, police announced those inside the vehicle were also facing other charges, including weapons offences and assault of a peace officer. Police said violating the health order exposed officers and the public to the risk of exposure to COVID-19.
“In this investigation, the suspect vehicle was travelling recklessly and at dangerously high speeds which posed as a threat to public safety,” RCMP spokeswoman Jessica Cantos said in a statement.
“The occupants of the vehicle were actively evading police. Once officers were able to apprehend these individuals, efforts to educate the individuals involved on the new public health orders was not the appropriate response required to keep the public and everyone involved safe.”
Cantos said the situation unfolded around the time when the public health orders were still new and there was “extensive consultation” done with the Crown to issue the appropriate ticket.
The charge under the province’s Public Health Act has since been withdrawn and stayed against at least two of the 11 people in the SUV.
Meili said an amnesty is still worthwhile, although there may be cases such as the one involving the SUV where it’s not appropriate.
In a statement, Premier Scott Moe’s office accused Meili of calling for political interference in the justice system.
“While elected officials make laws, enforcement decisions are made at the discretion of law enforcement officers. It is not and should not be up to politicians to decide who is charged or to grant amnesty from charges,” said spokesman Jim Billington.
The NDP leader said he has also heard about a resident from the northern community of Beauval, about 400 kilometres north of Saskatoon, who was fined a large amount for going to get groceries. Checkpoints have been established in parts of the north to restrict non-essential travel after outbreaks of COVID-19 were declared.
“What we should have is a strong, across-the-board message and I think that a tendency towards education and leniency and support for people is probably better than a big hammer,” said Meili.
Saskatchewan reported two new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, bringing the total number of infections to 641.
Health officials said 61 of the cases are considered active, while 570 people have recovered.