Health inspectors in Alberta face increasing amounts of harassment, threats, and hostility
EDMONTON -- As the pandemic continues, public health inspectors are experiencing increasing amounts of hostility as they conduct their work.
The workers tasked with protecting Albertans and ensuring public health orders are being followed increasingly need to worry about their own safety – both on and off the job.
Many say they have become targets for threats, harassment, and online bullying.
Meaghen Allen, a member of the Canadian Institute of Public Health Inspectors (CIPHI) branch in Alberta, told CTV News Edmonton in an interview that the role of inspectors has gone from not only protecting Albertans’ health but also their own personal safety.
“We’ve had public and private information posted on social media and we’ve received threats,” said Allen, who oversees a team of 17 inspectors in the Edmonton region for Alberta Health Services (AHS).
“It’s only a handful of interactions we have, but it is discouraging.
“Members across the province have encountered issues,” she added.
To protect the safety of public health inspectors, CIPHI has deleted the names of its members from its website.
“There’s a lot more anger we’re seeing by a select few,” Allen added.
“People are tired. They have COVID fatigue, and so as more restrictions come, there’s a lot more anger.”
One example, is far-right Calgary mayoral candidate Kevin J. Johnston.
The Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench granted AHS a restraining order against Johnson Friday after he threatened to harm its employees.
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University of Alberta health law and public health policy expert Timothy Caulfield said frustration towards enforcement of health restrictions is emerging as a larger problem.
“You’ve seen this erosion in trust happen over the past year,” he said in an interview. “At the beginning of this pandemic we were celebrating public health officials and now we’re at a very different place.
“It really does seem like public health officials of every kind, they’re facing more and more frustration and anger which is tremendously disappointing… (since) these are individuals who have as their mandate, as their goal, the protection of the public.”
According to Caulfield, some of the reasons why public trust has declined is the spread of misinformation, a lack of communication of the value public health measures have, and mixed messaging about the need for restrictions.
“It doesn’t help when you have politicians and public officials who are fuelling these kinds of perspectives,” Caulfield said.
“In Alberta and Ontario, if you believe the statistics, you see more frustration with public health officials.
“In Atlantic Canada, you see more confidence.”
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For Caulfield, data on public trust trends in Canada highlights how valuable having a coherent public health direction throughout the pandemic is.
“We need to have consistent application of the rules, we need to be clear about why these rules are in place and also talk about the evidence that supports these rules.”
In a statement to CTV News Edmonton, AHS says it has ramped up training for inspectors and ensured police accompany inspectors when regulatory actions are occurring.
“The demands on our teams have grown significantly since the beginning of the pandemic,” AHS said. “Our inspectors have often been the targets of harassment, threats and blame, and have been disrespected while carrying out their duties.”
AHS has also created a peer support group for inspectors and says it is continuing to find ways to further protect officials.
“Harassment and behaviour of this kind is never OK and will not be accepted," AHS added. We will always support and protect our people.”
With files from CTV News Edmonton’s Touria Izri