Winnipeg to increase number of bylaw officers enforcing COVID-19 rules

Winnipeg is expanding its complement of bylaw officers enforcing provincial public health orders related to COVID-19.

The city will increase the number of officers from five to nine, officials said Tuesday, meaning half of the city’s bylaw officers will now work on enforcing Manitoba’s rules.

“There’s still a need for higher levels of enforcement,” said Jay Shaw, head of the city’s emergency management department, at a news conference with Mayor Brian Bowman.

“When we were working with the province, it was decided that if we could help, we would,” Shaw said. “We’re working with them and and we’re going to keep helping to enforce these rules, and that’s one part of the effort to to make sure that we flatten the curve.”

The City of Winnipeg announced earlier this month it would redeploy five of its 18 bylaw officers to help with enforcement of new COVID-19 rules brought in by the province as part of the red, or critical, level on its pandemic response scale.

The city takes direction from the province when it comes to guiding the enforcement officers’ activities, Shaw said Tuesday. As per provincial guidance, officers will focus primarily on enforcing provincially ordered closures of non-essential businesses, including gyms, sports facilities, dance studios and community centres.

“We’re part of the team and we want to make sure that we’re still providing assistance,” he said. “There has been an increased level of interest in making sure that enforcement is active and strong, and we’re part of that voice.”

Mayor calls anti-masks protests deplorable

On Monday, bylaw officers inspected 136 locations and 132 of them were in compliance with provincial public health orders, Shaw said. Officers issued one warning to an individual for not wearing a mask but handed out no tickets.

Increasing the number of bylaw officers working on COVID-19 rules does have an impact on the city’s standard bylaw enforcement, Shaw said.

“The department will still prioritize inspections under that bylaw that pose a life safety issue, but other inspections, such as exterior defects on property, may be delayed,” he said.

During the news conference Tuesday, Bowman condemned recent anti-mask protests in Manitoba, including one in Steinbach over the weekend.

“I thought it was deplorable what we saw in Steinbach,” Bowman said, thanking the officials at the event who handed out fines.

“I saw the verbal abuse that they were taking on social media, and I thought it was it was disgusting.”

Bowman said he’s concerned about similar events taking place in Winnipeg, and the potential they hold to spread the virus among the wider community and protesters themselves.

“I’ve seen their messaging.… I don’t think they’re raising good points. I think they’re really doing a great disservice to their community,” he said.

Protesters who want to make their voices heard can do that in a way that doesn’t jeopardize others, Bowman said, like by taking action online.

“We’re losing residents right now to COVID, and to see really the selfishness of some of these individuals — I mean, think about somebody other than yourself,” he said.

“If, really, putting a mask on and going and sitting on the couch is a hardship — really? Like, come on, go home. Watch a movie, read a book, you know, troll people online.”