Manitoba's municipal bylaw enforcement officers now have the authority to crack down on COVID-19 rule breakers.
Changes made to provincial regulations Thursday authorize bylaw officers to enforce emergency health hazard orders and public health emergency orders within their respective municipalities.
They can now issue tickets of $1,296 for individuals and $5,000 for corporations for violating regulations put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The province jacked up the preset fines for violators Tuesday, in response to Manitoba's rising rate of novel coronavirus infections.
"Empowering bylaw officers with the ability to enforce public health orders will increase compliance and enable municipalities to address specific concerns in their communities," Municipal Affairs Minister Rochelle Squires said in a release Friday.
"These regulatory amendments provide another tool that we can deploy in the fight against COVID-19."
Prior to the move, only the RCMP and other police agencies, the Health Protection Unit, Manitoba Conservation and Climate, Workplace Safety and Health, and the Liquor, Gaming and Cannabis Authority of Manitoba were authorized to enforce public health orders.
On Wednesday, Premier Brian Pallister said the province expected the close to 130 municipal bylaw officers would soon be able to help enforce COVID-19 regulations.
Municipal bylaw officers will be able to issue fines for violating rules that restrict gatherings and limit group sizes, as well as physical-distancing orders, capacity limits, and regulations requiring bar patrons to remain seated.
Officers can also ticket those who've tested positive for COVID-19 or those advised they are a close contact, if they don't self-isolate. Officers can issue fines to those travelling to Manitoba who don't self-isolate, and people who violate the travel ban to northern Manitoba.
"Despite extensive public health education campaigns, compliance with public health orders continues to be an issue," Justice Minister Cliff Cullen said in the release. "Empowering additional enforcement personnel will help address the ongoing concerns about non-compliance as we reduce the spread of COVID-19."
The Association of Manitoba Municipalities said Friday it reached out to justice and municipal relations officials for more details and possible impacts on its members.
"While all orders of government must work together in these challenging times, municipalities are already facing tremendous financial and administrative pressures due to increased expenditures while delivering essential services and protecting local communities," AMM president Ralph Groening said in an email.
Meanwhile, if the province is giving municipal bylaw officers more power and more duties, it should also provide more funding, the NDP municipal affairs critic said.
"We know that municipalities are already stretched thin and their enforcement officers are already stretched thin after years of funding cuts," said MLA Matt Wiebe (Concordia).
"Now the province is asking municipal officers to take on this role without any consultation with municipalities and no additional funding to allow this to happen."
Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman said the city is still looking for direction from the province on the issue.
"Ideally, it would be great if our officials had met prior (to the announcement), so they could roll out a co-ordinated enforcement regime and we could support the efforts of Manitoba Health," Bowman said Friday.
"If the expectation is there’s particular areas of enforcement where they need assistance… we’ll step up. But we really do need that direction from the province of Manitoba."
— with files from Joyanne Pursaga
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.