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Alberta

Alberta justice minister hikes fines, promises renewed effort on COVID-19 scofflaws

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EDMONTON — Alberta has doubled fines for disobeying public health measures meant to fight COVID-19 and Justice Minister Kaycee Madu is promising a renewed effort to stop public health scofflaws will succeed.

“Enforcement will be done, and Albertans will see it being done,” Madu told a news conference Wednesday.

“It has become clear that there are a small few who refuse to comply with reasonable and legitimate public health orders”

The United Conservative government passed an order in council Wednesday that doubles fines for public health violations to $2,000.

Madu said there is also a new protocol for health officials, police and government to co-ordinate and target repeat individuals and groups that flout the law.

He said he discussed with police chiefs this week what further tools and resources they need to step up enforcement.

Premier Jason Kenney on Tuesday announced stronger measures to reverse soaring COVID-19 cases that threaten to overwhelm hospitals by month’s end and to force doctors to decide which patients get life-saving care.

Kenney’s government has been criticized for being a paper tiger on lawbreakers. In January, it allowed some restaurants to flout dine-in restrictions. GraceLife church, in Spruce Grove, Alta., west of Edmonton, was able to hold Sunday services for months that officials have said ignored rules on masks, capacity limits and physical distancing. Police physically blocked off the church just a month ago.

The enforcement issue made headlines again on this weekend when hundreds of people gathered near Bowden in central Alberta for a pre-advertised maskless “No More Lockdowns” protest rodeo.

Edmonton and Calgary have also seen maskless mass protests against health restrictions.

Action was taken Wednesday against one accused repeat offender. Alberta Health Services announced the Whistle Stop Café in Mirror, Alta., had been physically closed and access barred. The café had been flagged for repeatedly breaking COVID-19 health restrictions by staying open and serving customers.

Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley said Kenney’s government set its enforcement policy up for failure from the get-go by stressing education first and enforcement as a last resort.

Referring to the protocol Madu outlined, Notley said: “The fact there is a protocol to tell them to talk to each other is not new. It is a policy dressed up to look like action, but it is not significant, and that’s why we’re calling on them to do more.”

She criticized the plan to target only repeat offenders: “(That) says to me their plan is to give everybody their first rodeo free, which is in effect what they did with the Bowden rodeo.

“This has to stop because that Bowden rodeo will turn out to be a super-spreader. People will get sick from that rodeo. People will get seriously ill.”

Kenney announced tighter rules Tuesday, some of which came in effect Wednesday. Outdoor gatherings, which had been limited to 10 people, are now capped at five. Worship services, which were allowed at 15 per cent capacity, have been reduced to 15 people maximum.

Retailers, which had been open at 15 per cent customer capacity, are restricted to 10 per cent.

On Friday, all kindergarten to Grade 12 students will learn from home. On Sunday, restaurants must close their patios and offer takeout service only. Personal wellness services, including hair salons and barber shops, will have to close.

Indoor social gatherings remain banned. Entertainment venues, including movie theatres and casinos, also remain closed.

As of Wednesday, Alberta had 24,156 active cases of COVID-19, with 666 people in hospital. It has experienced the highest infection rates in North America in recent weeks.

There are almost 1.7 million Albertans who have received at least one dose of vaccine. About one in three adults have had a shot.

Kenney said the vaccination rollout will be expanded drastically, with everyone in the province 12 and older to soon be eligible.

Every Albertan born in 1991 or earlier will be able to book vaccinations starting Friday. On Monday, appointments will be offered to anyone born between 2009 and 1992.

Earlier Wednesday, Health Canada approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children as young as 12.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 5, 2021.

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

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Alberta

Beehives and goat farms: Lacombe school shortlisted in global environmental contest

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Taylor Perez says she learned more about her passions while tending beehives, goats and fruit trees at her central Alberta high school than sitting through lessons in a classroom.

“These are all skills we don’t learn in regular classes,” says the 18-year-old student at Lacombe Composite High School.

“You’re not going to learn how to collaborate with community members by sitting in a classroom learning about E = mc2.”

Perez and her classmates are buzzing with excitement after their school’s student-led beekeeping program, goat farm, fruit orchard, tropical greenhouse and other environmental projects were recognized in a global sustainability contest among 10 other schools.

It’s the only North American school to be shortlisted by T4 Education, a global advocacy group, in its World’s Best School Prize for Environmental Action contest.

“The projects are coming from the students’ own hearts and passion for taking care of the environment,” says Steven Schultz, an agriculture and environmental science teacher who has been teaching in Lacombe since 1996.

“They are going to be our community leaders — maybe even our politicians — and for them to know what the heartbeat of their generation is (is) extremely important.”

Schultz says the projects are pitched and designed by students in the school’s Ecovision Club, to which Perez belongs, and he then bases a curriculum around those ideas.

The school of about 900 students began reducing its environmental footprint in 2006 when a former student heard Schultz say during a lesson on renewable energy that “words were meaningless or worthless without action,” the 56-year-old teacher recalls.

“She took that to heart and a year later she came back and told me that she wanted to take the school off the grid.”

Schultz and students watched a fire burn down solar panels on the school’s roof in 2010, an event that further transformed his approach to teaching.

“As their school was burning, my students gathered in tears. That day I realized that students really care about the environment and they really care about the projects that they were involved in.”

Since then, 32 new solar panels have been installed, and they produce up to four per cent of the school’s electricity. After the fire, students also wanted to clean the air in their classrooms so they filled some with spider plants, including one in the teachers’ lounge.

More recently, students replaced an old portable classroom on school property with a greenhouse that operates solely with renewable energy. It’s growing tropical fruits, such as bananas, pineapples, and lemons, and also houses some tilapia fish.

Two acres of the school are also covered by a food forest made up of almost 200 fruit trees and 50 raised beds where organic food is grown.

The school also works with a local farm and raises baby goats inside a solar-powered barn that was built with recycled material.

“They breed and milk them at the farm because there are really tight regulations,” says Schultz.

“We take the excrement from the goats and the hay and use it as mulch and fertilizers for our garden. The goats also chew up the grass and allow us not to have to use lawn mowers and tractors”

Perez said her favourite class is the beekeeping program with 12 hives that produce more than 300 kilograms of honey every year.

“I love that they have different roles in their own little societies,” Perez says of the bees.

She says while working with local businesses and groups as a part of her curriculum, she learned she’s passionate about the environment and wants to become a pharmacist so she can continue giving back to her community.

James Finley, a formerly shy Grade 10 student, says the Ecovision Club and environment classes have helped get him out of his comfort zone.

“I made friends, which was a hard thing for me in the beginning. But now I have, like, hundreds,” says the 16-year-old, who enjoyed the lessons he took on harvesting.

“Taylor and Mr. Schultz were the main people that made me stay.”

Schultz says the winners of the contest are to be announced in the fall.

A prize of about $322,000 will be equally shared among five winners.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sunday, July 3, 2022.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Fakiha Baig, The Canadian Press

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Alberta

Missing 13-year-old Edmonton girl found alive in Oregon, 41-year-old man arrested

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EDMONTON — Police say a 13-year-old Edmonton girl missing for more than a week has been found alive in the United States.

She was located following a week-long search that began when she was seen arriving at her junior high school but didn’t show up for class.

Edmonton Police Insp. Brent Dahlseide says the girl, who was reported missing June 24, is currently in an Oregon hospital for a precautionary examination after being found safe in the state early Saturday morning.

Dahlseide says a 41-year-old Oregon man will be charged with child luring and is expected to face additional charges in Canada and the U.S.

He says Edmonton police received assistance from other agencies in Canada, as well as from the FBI and other police services in the U.S.

Dahlseide says it’s believed the suspect came to Edmonton, but it’s not yet clear how he initially made contact with the girl or how she crossed the U.S. border.

“We would be speculating to say they crossed the border together, but I do know that they were located together, again, in the U.S. once they gained entry,” Dahlseide told reporters during an online news conference Saturday, noting he believed the two had been communicating online.

“I don’t know how long they may have been in contact with one another. I do know that the reason we’re going with a child-luring charge at this point is that it’s one we can support because of some of the online history.”

Photos of the girl have appeared on billboards and posters across Alberta this past week asking people to be on the lookout for her and contact police with tips.

Dahlseide said an Amber Alert was not issued because investigators lacked a description of a suspect or a suspect vehicle. He said police got that information on Friday and were drafting the alert that afternoon when they learned from Canada Border Services the suspect had crossed into the U.S.

At that point the suspect was no longer in Canadian jurisdiction, Dahlseide explained, which is another criteria for an Amber Alert. He said they made a deduction about where the suspect was going and alerted authorities on the U.S. side.

Dahlseide said he believed the arrest was made outside Gladstone, Oregon, just south of Portland, away from the suspect’s residence. He said the suspect’s name would not be released until charges are formally laid.

He said the girl’s family were informed early Saturday she’d been found safe and they are making arrangements to bring her home.

“I’m sure we likely woke them up, showing up at their door so early,” Dahlseide said.

Canadian investigators have not had a chance to speak with the girl or the suspect yet, Dahlseide said, and other questions remain.

He said investigators believe the suspect was in Mission, B.C. for three to four days, so they’ll be asking RCMP there to speak to people who may have seen him or the girl during that time. The FBI will also be able to help supply bank or credit card information to piece together the suspect’s movements, he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 2, 2022

Rob Drinkwater, The Canadian Press

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