Alberta premier questions arrest of pandemic lockdown protester at legislature

Alberta premier questions arrest of pandemic lockdown protester at legislature

EDMONTON — Alberta Premier Jason Kenney wants answers after a man protesting public health lockdown orders was arrested outside the legislature over the weekend.

“The right to peaceful protest is a fundamental right that includes both the freedoms of speech and assembly,” Kenney said in a statement Monday.

“We understand that a number of peaceful protests have occurred outside the legislature since a public health emergency was invoked, where protesters observed physical distancing guidelines largely without incident.

“Yesterday was the first time an arrest occurred.”

Kenney stressed that while elected leaders don’t direct front-line law enforcement, “we are inquiring why an arrest occurred yesterday, but not at previous protests.

“If we are not satisfied with the explanation, the government will modify public health orders to clarify that it is acceptable for individuals who are respecting physical distancing guidelines to be present in outdoor public venues, including for the purpose of protesting.”

On videos posted to Facebook, the man is seen sitting on the edge of the legislature fountain protesting the orders on Sunday.

He speaks through a bullhorn for a few minutes. He and other protesters around him appear to keep the mandated two-metre distance from each other, as per COVID-19 public health orders.

At one point, three legislature sheriffs walk up and surround the man.

They ask him for his identification and he refuses, after which they grab him by the arms and legs and haul him away. Supporters nearby jeer at the officers and members of the Edmonton police.

An Edmonton police spokesman said the man faces two charges under the Public Health Act for obstructing officers by refusing to provide identification and for participating in a public gathering of more than 15 people.

Alberta Justice spokesman Jason van Rassel, in a statement, said “This arrest … had to do with the individual’s failure to identify himself and provide his personal details to allow for the issuing of a ticket for failure to abide by public health orders.

“He was subsequently transferred to (Edmonton police) members in attendance who removed him from the area and charged him with obstruction.”

A 15-person maximum rule was also put in to deal with the pandemic. It is to remain in place even as the province moves forward Thursday with opening up stores, hair salons and other businesses.

Also Monday, Economic Development Minister Tanya Fir announced that industry-specific guidelines are now available online for businesses getting ready to reopen.

Restaurants and bars, for example, must operate at no more than 50 per cent seating capacity, with at least a two-metre distance separating dining parties.

Retail store owners should regularly clean and disinfect surfaces and equipment touched by staff and customers, as well as limit the amount of shoppers in the store at any given time.

In hair salons, staff need to wear masks and should encourage customers to do the same. Walk-in service is discouraged and workstations need to maintain two metres’ distance.

“(This) information gives businesses an easy-to-follow road map for reopening,” said Fir.

Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley said the guidelines are too vague.

“Today’s announcement leaves many unanswered questions and there is still no word about support for the cost of implementing new safety measures,” said Notley on Twitter.

“We need the UCP (government) to do better.”

Recent numbers suggest the province is flattening the rate of infections.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the chief medical officer of health, said there are 1,524 active cases of COVID-19. There were also two more deaths, both in continuing care facilities, bringing that total to 117.

The number of hospitalizations continue to decline. There are 73 people in hospital, 12 of whom are in intensive care.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 11, 2020.

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

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