Restrictions due to COVID-19 have had a polarizing effect on Albertans, from mask-wearing to social gatherings to restaurant dining.
While regulations have eased to allow limited sit-down dining, there were a handful of rural eateries that remained open earlier this year in defiance of a government-ordered shutdown.
The owner of one of those restaurants and an Edmonton pub operator at the other end of the enforcement spectrum recently shared their views with Great West Media.
"I'm not going to roll over. What the government is doing is wrong," said Chris Scott, who took over the Whistle Stop Café in Mirror in July 2019.
Scott's café reopened for dine-in service in January despite public health measures at the time that only allowed for take-out, drive-thru and delivery. As reported by CBC, Scott was issued an initial public health order, contravened that order and was charged a second time. Though AHS has since dropped legal action to force the café to close, Scott still faces the two Public Health Act charges and is due to appear in court April 22.
Alberta Health Services (AHS) issued a closure order for the Whistle Stop Café on Jan. 22, but the café remained open anyway.
The Whiste Stop Café posted to Facebook on Feb. 3 that AHS had been granted an emergency court-ordered injunction to close the café's dining room while the health measures were in effect, but remained open in contravention of that injunction as well.
The province allowed dining rooms to reopen Feb. 8.
Scott said he was taking precautions before the province imposed restrictions in 2020 and stressed, “I am not a COVID denier.”
"We already had hygiene measures in place. We took the measures to reduce capacity; we had sanitizers on every table. We don't need the government to tell us that," he said.
"My real fear about the pandemic is the division it has created. The government and the media are taking these numbers and invoking fear among so many people."
Glenn Juhnke, owner/operator of Edmonton's Uncle Glenn's Eatery & Sports Pub, says he has no issue abiding by every government restriction during COVID-19.
"I am disappointed with the restaurants in the rural areas that don't think COVID-19 isn't serious. They are wrong. They are putting everybody's health at risk."
"I've followed all the rules. In fact, I went above and beyond," said Juhnke, who has owned his establishment for 34 years. He said government financial assistance has been crucial to his survival.
Edmonton Griesbach MP Kerry Diotte, a former Edmonton city councillor, said he has received many comments from constituents complaining about COVID-19 restrictions.
"I know it is hard, but you have got to follow the rules," he said.
Alberta Health Services spokesperson Tom McMillan stated, "All Albertans must do their part to follow the public health orders and keep driving cases downward."
He issued a release stating, "Officials focus on educating everyone about the public health measures and why they are necessary."
He added enforcement is a last resort.
RCMP statistics listing COVID-19 complaints across the province between July 8 and Dec. 20, 2020, bear that out. Of 1,464 calls to the Mounties over those five months, only 27 led to charges under the Public Health Act while there were more than 272 warnings issued.
In Edmonton, between Aug. 1, 2020 – when the city's face-covering bylaw came into effect – and Feb. 28, 2021, a total of 353 tickets were issued and there were 5,707 warnings. The fine for not wearing a face covering under the city bylaw is $100.
While the local bylaw fine remains in effect, a city official said repeat offenders no longer face $1,200 fines after the province’s state of public health emergency expired on Feb. 22.
“As a result, City of Edmonton Peace Officers no longer have the authority to issue tickets for violations of orders under the Public Health Act such as physical distancing and restrictions on businesses,” stated a city release.
All COVID-19-related statistics in Edmonton going back to Nov. 25, 2020 are listed here.
In Calgary, warning totals were not available but there were 205 temporary face covering bylaw tickets issued between Aug. 1, 2020, and Feb. 18, 2021.
Calgary chief bylaw inspector Ryan Pleckaitis stated, “The City of Calgary continues to enforce the Temporary COVID-19 Face Coverings Bylaw and mandatory public health orders, prioritizing violations that pose the greatest risk to the public.”
Gary Poignant is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Great West Newspapers. This story was funded by the Google News Initiative.