Manitoba’s security-guard union is decrying the province's lack of transparency around its plans to have a private firm enforce public-health rules.
The provincial government is unwilling to share materials being used to train bus inspectors, security guards and liquor-licence inspectors to break up large gatherings and issue fines, in some cases to angry, verbally abusive individuals.
"I don’t know why there seems to be such a level of secrecy around what the training is," said Jeff Traeger, head of United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 832, which represents security guards.
"It makes the government look as though they’re hiding something, when they don’t transparently come forward and tell Manitobans they’re going to make sure these people are properly trained and safe on the job."
The province insists it has already provided enough information and that the training material is a private firm's intellectual property.
Premier Brian Pallister announced Tuesday that the province will pay $1 million to G4S Canada for 90 or more guards to enforce public-health rules, starting as soon as this weekend.
The security firm's website has a posting seeking "temporary mobile health officers" in Winnipeg, who will be paid $20 per hour to issue tickets and warnings.
Earlier this month, the province passed regulations allowing conservation officers, commercial motor-carrier officers, fire-safety inspectors and and municipal bylaw officers to issue tickets under public-health rules. The penalties include $1,296 fines for individuals gathering in large groups and $5,000 fines for businesses that aren’t supposed to be operating.
Pallister suggested Wednesday that the province had to contract out the work to G4S because its own staff don't know how to deal with highly confrontational scenarios.
It turns out security guards don’t, either.
"We have some concerns about what these new duties are going to entail, and we want to make sure those folks are given the proper training before they're asked to do it," Traeger said.
He said he isn’t clear on how much force security guards can use, whether they can decline work they deem unsafe and whether they’ll be sent out alone to break up groups.
Traeger said guards are trained to de-escalate situations, observe and make reports, and rarely intervene as they're often liable if anyone is injured.
The province said some of the estimated 100 anti-mask protesters in Steinbach — reportedly members of the independent Church of God — last Saturday intentionally coughed on provincial enforcement officers and uttered racial slurs.
RCMP said some people believed to have been participants in the protest made their way to Bethesda Regional Health Centre, where they took photos and harassed hospital staff.
Traeger said the province should be paying for adequate protective equipment such as masks.
"We’re concerned that our folks are going to be faced with some real angry people that are about to be fined for violating a public-health order," he said. "There can be all kinds of responses from those people, and we'll need to have tools to prepare for that and de-escalate."
Justice Minister Cliff Cullen’s office said he was unavailable for an interview Wednesday, but nevertheless provided a statement attributed to him.
It said Commissionaires Manitoba designed the training and "we have contractual obligations not to release the details of their training program, as it is their intellectual property."
The province said it’s a four-part virtual course that outlines skills such as "compliance realities," maintaining records and "handling confrontation — effectively preparing to stay safe."
Despite the numerous questions Traeger raised, Cullen wrote that "unions have been provided with all required information, and will continue to be updated."
Jack Lindsay, emergency studies chairman at Brandon University, said it’s not uncommon for provinces to extend enforcement powers in an emergency to provincial personnel, and sometimes private security.
"These security guards would probably not be individually liable for anything, as long as they were not exceeding their authority, or acting in bad faith," Lindsay said.