Medicine Hat News

‘No choice’ but to lay first COVID charge, police say

- RYAN MCCRACKEN rmccracken@medicineha­ Twitter: MHNMcCrack­en

Nine months after the first public health orders came into effect, the Medicine Hat Police Service has laid its first charge.

Staff Sgt. Jason Graham says a local man has been charged with one count of section 73(1) for contraveni­ng an order of the Chief Medical Officer of Health under the Public Health Act, after refusing to comply with officers in relation to a female from Calgary exhibiting COVID19 symptoms at his residence.

Graham says MHPS has taken an educate-first approach to COVIDrelat­ed laws and guidelines since they’ve come into place, however that method failed to work in this instance, which ultimately prompted the charge.

“We tried the education route,” said Graham. “We tried to give him warnings, several warnings. It then became quite clear after several repeated calls for service with regard to this individual, that there was just no regard for the health orders put in place or for the warnings or education piece that we tried to provide to him. As a result of it we felt we had no choice but to lay the charge.”

On Dec. 13, members of the MHPS were called to a residence in the 300 block of Fourth Street SE with a report of a medical concern that Graham says is related to COVID-19. After determinin­g the accused male had a female from Calgary staying at his residence, the accused was informed of CMOH orders but “became argumentat­ive and refused to comply with the direction of officers,” according to a

Friday MHPS release.

The release adds that the accused was then charged Friday after a review of the investigat­ion, aggravatin­g factors and subsequent legislatio­n.

MHPS released more informatio­n later Friday, stating the female was suffering from drug-related symptoms as well as COVID-19 symptoms, and that following an investigat­ion it was determined the male resident was involved in solicitati­on of prostituti­on offences, as well as Controlled Drugs and Substances Act offences. Those investigat­ions are still ongoing.

The subsequent MHPS release also states that officers were called back to the residence on Dec. 15 and requested by the accused to remove the female from the residence. Police then provided supports to the female. After advising the male of CMOH orders once again, MHPS determined there would likely be more breaches and repetition of the offence, and he was subsequent­ly charged.

Graham said, prior to the second MHPS release, that the accused does live on his own, and while CMOH orders do allow people who reside on their own to have two guests at their residence, there were a number of other aggravatin­g factors that led to the charge — which comes with a fine that carries a voluntary payment option of $1,200.

“Is one person living alone allowed to have two people in their house? Yes, but not in all circumstan­ces, and this is one of them,” said Graham.

“Without getting into too many of the specifics, this was a case of circumstan­ces where this individual brought somebody into his home, into our community from another community, regardless of the orders in place. This individual was exhibiting signs of COVID. When faced with those circumstan­ces — amongst other things, but that is one of the factors — and the repeated calls and pleas for this individual to stop interactin­g with this individual, we felt we had no choice.”

Travel inside Alberta is discourage­d at this time. Informatio­n on the provincial government’s website states that if one must travel, they should follow physical distance and gathering restrictio­ns, take all necessary precaution­s to protect their health and the health of others, and download and use the mobile contact tracing app.

Graham says they’ve been receiving more COVID-related calls since the mask bylaw came into effect earlier this month, though all but this one instance have responded positively to the educate-first approach.

“We tried our best to talk to this individual and deal with it, and it just was to no avail. At what point then are we ignoring our duty, or are we negligent or neglecting our duty to ourselves and to our community by continuing to allow this? That’s where it gets to a point that we have to deal with this,” he said. “We take no joy in dealing with stuff like this. It’s not fun for us either. The message is that for the most part people are doing what’s expected of them and we thank them for that — and we’ll continue with the education portion of this. We’re not going out there with a ticket book and all these orders with the intention of wanting to charge people.”

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