Winnipeg police say ‘time for education has passed,’ will crack down on parties to curb COVID-19

Winnipeg police say they’re stepping up enforcement of COVID-19-related public health orders immediately, taking particular aim at house parties and other big gatherings.

“Our job is making sure people understand how serious this is and we are going to do that through fines,” Winnipeg Police Service Const. Rob Carver said at a Wednesday morning news conference.

Rule breakers will find that a large party in pandemic times is a higher priority for police than it would have been a year ago, he said.

Calls will be triaged based on a number of factors, including whether they involve an urgent public safety concern, he said.

Not every call will get immediate action but when officers do go out, they will be primed to hand out penalties that hit people hard in the wallet.

Fines for individuals breaching public health orders have been increased to $1,296 — the second-highest penalty of its kind in Canada.

“We’ve been doing education [about the public health orders] for a long time and the numbers [of cases] have continued to go up,” Carver said. “So now, we will be focusing less on education and more on enforcement.

“I think the time for education has passed here. The numbers are terrible.”

People making reports to police are asked to call 311, not 911, in order to keep the emergency lines open, Carver said.

Premier Brian Pallister, who has raised the prospect of a daily curfew, said on Tuesday it would only work with buy-in from Winnipeg police and RCMP to break up “the big house parties that have been happening.”

Provincial public health orders limit public and private group gathering sizes to five.

“To get that message across, if we have to start fining people, we’re going to do that,” Carver said.

Pallister and Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin have said enforcement of the COVID-19 protocols is a key part of their strategy to stamp down the surge in cases.

Like Carver, they have said people don’t seem to be listening to repeated requests to adhere to current restrictions, so increased penalties and stepped-up enforcement are necessary.

“This is a signal that we are serious,” Carver said. “The numbers are up, our response is up.”

He said he is not aware of any additional expenses that would be required for police to enforce a curfew, if it does come into effect, and doesn’t foresee it being an issue.

The police service would continue to devote resources to issues of public safety while finding a way to manage any curfew response, he said.