There were 28 charges in Saskatchewan for violating COVID-19 public health orders in 2020, but fines have only been fully collected for two of those charges.

According to the Ministry of Justice, five of the 28 have resulted in convictions, 13 are pending a court date and a subsequent decision and the remaining charges were withdrawn, nullified or jurisdiction was lost.

The 28 charges under the Public Health Act were recorded before Dec. 31.

The ministry said if a fine remains unpaid 90 days after its due date, the ministry will send it to a collection agency or to the Canada Revenue Agency, or both.

The ministry said the reason for charges being dropped can vary in each situation. It said the government is currently in the process of collecting fines from those who were convicted who have not yet paid.

Like all tickets under The Summary Offences Procedures Act, those who receive them have options. They can pay the fine, talk to a judge or justice of the peace at a location and date listed on the ticket to discuss the charge or they can plead not guilty and go to trial.

THE ROLE OF POLICE

The Regina Police Service (RPS) has handed out nine tickets for non-compliance so far. Insp. Darrin McKechnie with RPS’ Support Services Division said they have all been given to individuals and not corporations.

McKechnie said the role of police has changed throughout the pandemic. In the early months, it was more about educating the public on the restrictions.

“The time back then was for education. We wanted compliance, we wanted people to know what was going on, and I think that the main focus, along with the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA), was to educate, educate, educate,” he said.

He said RPS works closely with the SHA to decide what its response should be to those who are breaking public health orders. The focus has now shifted from education to enforcement.

“We feel that the rules have been around long enough that if they’re a direct violation of the rules sometimes enforcement, whether that be a ticket or in some cases, more extreme cases, arrest and detention,” McKechnie said.

There have been no arrests made by RPS for exceeding the gathering limit, however Insp. McKechnie said there have been a few cases of detention for people who did not isolate properly when testing positive or after an exposure.

“Under the authority of the Public Health Order and the Quarantine Act, police officers do have the right to arrest and detain,” he said. “That generally is a last resort. That’s not something we want to do.”

He said there have been a few cases when RPS has arranged for a person to be transported to the closed detention facility in North Battleford for not cooperating.

“Those are for people subject to detention orders that did not follow the rules and expressed that they weren’t planning on following the rules in the future,” he said.

McKechnie said it is not up to RPS to follow up on fines, as that is the responsibility of the province.

“When we make the decision to write an individual or a corporation a ticket, as part of the ticket there’s either a voluntary payment or a court date,” he said. “That’s pretty much where our involvement ends unless we’re called to court to testify.”

At Tuesday’s press conference, Saskatchewan premier Scott Moe said ideally, no tickets would be handed out.

“The goal is compliance. The goal is not to administer fines. However, they are being administered where people are blatantly ignoring the public health guidance that is in place,” Moe said. “Public Health and our law enforcement are using their discretion as to where they apply the investigation and ultimately the fines.”