Premier Brian Pallister is being chastised for encouraging Manitobans to publicly shame people, groups and businesses that don’t adhere to a social distancing order.

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Premier Brian Pallister is being chastised for encouraging Manitobans to publicly shame people, groups and businesses that don’t adhere to a social distancing order.

During a news conference on Friday to announce that his government had declared a state of emergency in the province, Pallister said: "If you come across a situation where people are not observing the social-distancing rules, I would like you to go on the internet and tell everyone not to shop there. Don’t go there. Don’t honour that kind of behaviour."

Pallister’s press secretary told the Free Press Sunday that Pallister stands by his comments.

University of Manitoba ethics Prof. Neil McArthur said it’s the government’s job to protect public safety and they shouldn’t be offloading that responsibility to the public in a "random vigilante way."

"Even though we were ahead of this and they had the opportunity, they still left businesses like bars and restaurants open. What they’ve done is shown a shocking lack of political leadership. And then they’ve compounded that, or at least Pallister has compounded that, by expecting the public to somehow make up for their own failures in a way that I think is really irresponsible," McArthur said.

"To call on people to use the internet in this way just plays on some of the worst instincts that people have shown when it comes to internet use."

The state of emergency gives legal force to social-distancing directives. Effective 4 p.m. Friday, the province limited the size of indoor and outdoor public gatherings to no more than 50 people for a period of 30 days. The order includes faith-based gatherings and family events, including weddings and funerals. Those defying the orders are subject to fines and possible jail sentences. For individuals, fines of up to $50,000 are possible; for corporations, fines can be as high as $500,000.

"These measures that we’re taking today will enshrine what, quite frankly, has been happening in Manitoba," Pallister said Friday.

McArthur said these measures are nowhere near enough.

"They should give very clear, unambiguous signals. Right now, we’re getting mixed signals. We’ve been told this is a state of emergency. We’ve been told this is a public health emergency. On the other hand, we’re being told you can have events of less than 50 people," McArthur said.

"There’s no jurisdiction that I know of that would still allow people to gather in groups of 50... We do still have a window of opportunity here because we are a little behind in terms of the spread of the virus, but we’ve squandered it, just like so many others. I don’t understand because we were ahead of everyone else and we had the opportunity and somehow this leadership, this government, squandered it."

Following Pallister’s suggestion, the Free Press received a handful of calls from members of the public who wanted to draw attention to people allegedly breaking the rules.

On Sunday, Winnipeg police cautioned the public not to call 911 to complain about people or workplaces allegedly not following social distancing standards or to ask questions about COVID-19.

Const. Jay Murray said people must realize 911 is for emergencies only. While he couldn’t provide details about inappropriate calls to the police communication centre on the weekend, he pointed out that police received a number of such calls on the weekend of March 14-15.

"There have been numerous calls that are not police related. We encourage the public to avoid calling unless you need direct emergency assistance," the release said.

taylor.allen@freepress.mb.ca

laurie.bailey@freepress.mb.ca

Taylor Allen

Taylor Allen
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Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of.

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