INNISFAIL – With Alberta Health Services (AHS) and RCMP closing down Mirror’s controversial truck stop just hours after the province announced tough new measures against surging COVID-19 numbers, the spotlight shifts to the Town of Innisfail where local officials prepare against a planned May 15 outdoor event hosted by controversial mayoral candidate Glen Carritt.
Jim Romane, the mayor of Innisfail, is condemning Carritt’s planned Family Jamboree for May 15, which follows his support and attendance as a featured speaker at the recent anti-lockdown rodeo near Bowden, and six weeks after his widely condemned outdoor Easter weekend outdoor party on April 3.
The No More Lockdown Rodeo Rally held on private property reportedly attracted up to 2,000, while Carritt estimated 400 attended his April 3 gathering. Most attendees at both events were not wearing masks and safe social distancing was questionable at best. A COVID-related violation ticket was served to Carritt following the April 3 event. He is scheduled to appear in provincial court on June 9.
“I am not happy with it. I am not in favour of this at all. I am sure council would support me on that. I think if we are going to do anything let’s take him to task and say, ‘no, it’s not going to happen,'” said Romane, adding he has asked Town of Innisfail staff to look into all options to ensure all provincial COVID restrictions are enforced. “I would sooner take the side in support of the community and the health of the community and say ‘this is not happening Mr. Carritt’ and if you do put it on suffer the consequences.
“I am disappointed with the organizer of this event who is making an effort to become a community leader and occupy the mayor’s seat and he’s leading people into the fires on his own opinion of something and not in respect of the health authorities. He’s going against them,” added the mayor. “Are you going to do that when you are the community leader and you have a responsibility for people and not just yourself and what you feel about it? You’ve got a responsibility to the rest of the people. Is that the kind of guy you want leading your town?”
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Innisfail RCMP Staff Sgt. Chris Matechuk was in Mirror early in the morning on May 5 as a member of the force’s Community Conflict Management Group while AHS physically closed the village’s Whistle Stop Café following 413 public complaints and numerous violations of provincial COVID restrictions.
“I was in that capacity only,” said Matechuk, who was observed in a live Facebook video feed gently talking to the distraught Mirror business owner in an attempt to de-escalate the tense multi-agency operation.
However, the commanding officer of the Innisfail RCMP is very much involved with the enforcement strategy of Carritt’s highly publicized May 15 event at his business in the town’s industrial park.
“We are planning with Alberta Health Services and the town. We are very well aware of the event,” said Matechuk. “I can’t comment any more on what activity is taken but it’s all over social media and stuff and Alberta Health Services is aware of it and has met with us and the town on it. Collectively we have been discussing it. Plans on how to respond are fluid. They are ongoing, to see how things go. I can’t really comment anymore on it because it may jeopardize what activities, if any, we take place.”
Carritt, who has also publicly stated plans for a July outdoor event, was contacted by The Albertan on May 6 for his reaction to the town’s intent to deal with his May 15 gathering, and whether the event will continue. But he declined to offer The Albertan comments, other than to ask why the mayor did not call him.
However, he did post a five-minute video on his mayoral Facebook site, angrily assailing Romane and council members for not “moving forward” to having outdoor events.
“Are you not fighting to have these events? There is no evidence these lockdowns work. If you don’t see it by now. I’m sorry you are not paying attention,” said Carritt, who repeatedly claimed he was being bullied, and angrily waved a letter from Alberta Health Services which he said advised him that he could not now have an outdoor event. “At what point are we moving forward with normal. At what do we take back at what’s ours and have a free country to have events when there is no evidence these lockdowns work and the numbers justify what is going on. Look at the hospitals. They are lying to you about the numbers.
“They are continuing to bully and it’s coming from this town. They are phoning the corporate offices of different towns to try and create a bullying tactic in our own town,” he added. “Is this current town council and mayor actually supporting small businesses? I don’t think you are.”
Carritt did not say in his video if he is still moving ahead with his May 15 outdoor event.
With Alberta’s record high COVID infection rates, the highest of any jurisdiction in North America, the provincial government responded on May 4 with stronger public health measures, including limiting all outdoor social gatherings to no more than five people and a maximum of two household cohorts. The province also doubled fines for violators, from $1,000 to $2,000. Violators are still faced with a maximum fine of up to $100,000 for a first offence.
Kaycee Madu, minister of Justice and Solicitor General, said during a press conference on May 5 the doubling of fines "reflects the serious risk non-compliance poses to the public health and safety."
He added that fines alone will not eradicate the problem of repeat offenders.
"And so we are also introducing a new law enforcement protocol to more effectively target complex and flagrant cases of non-compliance. Whether an individual, organization or business is the culprit, this protocol will be used to coordinate a multi-agency response to repeat offenders," said Madu.
Partners in the group include AHS, Occupational Health and Safety, Alberta Prosecution Service and local police services. Alberta Gaming Liquor and Cannabis will also participate when cases involve licencees or activities under its jurisdiction.
If one organization is unable to gain compliance, a coalition of enforcement partners will work with each other to respond as quickly as possible with the most effective measures to gain compliance in that situation. The protocol also outlines steps for ongoing monitoring, which will assist authorities with deciding how to escalate legal and regulatory consequences against offenders that refuse to comply with previous enforcement measures.
“Our numbers from local positive cases were hovering around from five to 10 for a long time is up well over 100 now. That is the same with every small community along the main corridor here, and these are areas that are having these no-mask rallies,” said Romane. “Don’t tell me they haven’t contributed to these numbers. I am sure they have. But they will argue that COVID is not that big of a deal.
“It is because I know people that are suffering (from) the long-term effects of COVID now,” said Romane of his now impassioned stance against COVID-19 deniers and anti-mask rallies. “I know one fellow I know very well and he is still walking with a walker. He got COVID six weeks ago and was in the hospital for a month. We damn near lost him but now he is walking with a walker.
“Another fellow had COVID three weeks ago and now he’s still not able to walk more than about 10 feet and he has to sit down because he’s out of breath,” continued Romane. “There is going to be a lot of stories come out of the woodwork after this is over, with the effect COVID has had on people. It is not just the flu.”
Coun. Don Harrison, who brought up the Carritt plans to council on May 3, said he was encouraged with the new provincial restrictions, noting they are “tough” and the province was forced to do something with Alberta enduring escalating third wave COVID cases.
“These measures are tough and it is up to us now. The premier has made it clear that we all have to do our part. We got to work together on this,” he said. “There is a lot of angry people out there. They see the rules in place. They are following the rules and then the violators, the non-compliant, just seem to get away with it. That is the frustrating part and people are angry about that.”
As for the planned outdoor events by Carritt, Harrison said he hopes there is a pro-active strategy in place by the RCMP and AHS to deal with them. He later added he’s in complete agreement with the concerns by the mayor, noting his 39-year-old stepson has serious breathing issues originating from a serious motor vehicle accident, and his wife has bronchial issues.
“I agree 100 per cent with our mayor. I think all of council is. I know I certainly am. I certainly hope that everyone heeds the warnings and the recommendations and warnings as we go forth here because they are all around us,” said Harrison, believing the mayor has the support of all of council. “This (May 15 event) is just asinine.”
- With files from Lea Smaldon