By Cole Parkinson
With COVID-19 preventing gatherings across the world, the Municipal District of Taber has shut down many of their recreational facilities.
M.D. of Taber Park has been the latest closed to vehicle access on April 9, though foot traffic is still allowed, this is in addition to the temporary closure of the Forks Park.
While many outdoor rec facilities have been closed, M.D. council had questions during their regular meeting on April 14 if local enforcement had been called about any mass gatherings in the area.
“Have you been involved at all in breaking up large gatherings or have you been made aware of any large gatherings that need to be broken up?” asked Reeve Merrill Harris.
As part of the RCMP’s monthly delegation, it was explained to council that calls to the detachment have been down overall since the pandemic had really taken flight.
“We’re actually not getting a lot of calls, to be honest with you. That being said, I don’t know how many calls AHS is actually fielding, because the process is AHS gets it and then they bump it down to the police of jurisdiction or to CPOs in some cases. As far as the RCMP goes, we have not been engaged in breaking up large gatherings. We conducted that enforcement operation out at the Forks a couple of weeks ago but we are not getting a lot of phone calls in regard to mass gatherings,” explained Sgt. Gord Yetman. “Members are out on patrol and they are keeping their ears to the ground so if there is anything going on, there is a fairly good chance we would hear about it.”
The closure of the Forks Park was brought up in greater detail by Coun. Brian Brewin.
With temporary roadblocks in place at the park, he wondered if they had a suggestion as to when they could lift any of the park closures.
“I was down at the Forks on Sunday and you’ll be glad to know Fish and Game are helping you out because they stopped me,” said Brewin with a chuckle. “But are you having any more issues there with roadblocks coming up or off? When do you think areas like that could be opened up again?”
“I guess that would be up to the municipality,” responded Yetman. “That would have to be a judgement call.”
As far as the roadblocks, both council and the RCMP noted there wasn’t much else that could be done to prevent people from entering the park.
“They seem to be just going around (the roadblocks). I’m not sure what else we could be doing to help you out,” continued Brewin. “In reality, we are doing our due diligence by putting the signs up there. If they disobey it, there’s not a lot we can do about it.”
Yetman also concluded both parties had done all they could do up to this point in terms of keeping people away.
“If you put up roadblocks and they are just those portable barricades, there is absolutely nothing stopping people from going around them. I would hope if something was going on down in the Forks, we would get a call about it but I have no guarantees. No one has called in recently saying there had been gatherings going on down there,” he said. “The fact you have the barricades up there, that’s really all we can do at this point. Unfortunately, this is one of those things where we, the police, can’t be everywhere at once.”
The same question around breaking up large groups was also posed to the M.D. community peace officers.
“At the beginning of the order itself, we teamed up with the RCMP at went to Grassy Lake and a few different recreational areas. For the most part, it’s just been patrolling,” said Kirk Hughes, CPO sergeant and director of community safety. “The M.D. Park is now closed so the CPOs have been doing some foot patrols in the area, talking to people and making sure the message is out there.”
He also noted CPO Henry Peters had been in contact with the Low-German Mennonite population to spread self-distancing messages.
“Other than a few calls from public health to check on people to make sure they are following COVID-19 orders, as far as gatherings are concerned we didn’t have much activity. I’m hoping that message has got out there,” added Hughes.