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Higgs government wants more clout to enforce pandemic restrictions, but opposition skeptical
FREDERICTON -- The Higgs government is looking for more clout to enforce COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.
Amendments to the Emergency Measures Act proposed on Thursday would allow police and peace officers to stop someone and ask for documentation without giving a reason.
On March 25, when police and peace officers were stationed at all New Brunswick borders, they were told to ask for identification and turn away visitors if their reason for travel was deemed unnecessary.
But there was uncertainty in their minds, says Premier Blaine Higgs.
"They were questioning themselves, 'Do I have the authority to stop a car and ask all this information?'" Higgs said. "So, we're not asking them to do anything differently than they've been doing for the last three months, but we are asking for clarification on the authority that they have to do so."
To get that clarification, the Department of Public Safety drew up some amendments to the Emergency Measures Act to "make it clear that peace officers have the authority to stop people, request documentation and conduct investigations in support of enforcing an emergency order during a state of emergency."
There's no mention that this would be specific to the border itself.
Some say it sounds like "carding."
"We know, the people most affected by giving police these powers are people of visible minority, and our Indigenous First Nations people, will be affected the most should that power ever be granted," said Liberal leader Kevin Vickers.
All three opposition parties have issues with the bill.
"I've always been a very strong believer in small government, less government and allowing people to be free as much as possible," said Kris Austin, the leader of the Peoples' Alliance of New Brunswick. "I think that bill kind of infringes on a little bit of that."
But Austin, Vickers, and Green Party leader David Coon all said they are open to discussing it and proposing new amendments.
The bill also includes sweeping measures during an emergency, like increasing fines to $5,000 for corporations that violate the state of emergency order and allowing cabinet to override a regulation or municipal bylaw.
"This approach is a bit surprising," said Margot Cragg of the Union of the Municipalities of New Brunswick. "I can't give you context for why they think this is necessary and what they're trying to fix because they didn't talk to us first."
The union says during the pandemic the province has been very good at working with communities to keep them safe.
"This is a very different approach," Cragg said. "It's surprising and it doesn't bode well."
The union is meeting with the province Friday morning to discuss the bill.
The premier says he fully expects it to look a lot different once all parties suggest their amendments.