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More than 100 city recreation staff redeployed to help ensure COVID-19 rules followed in Winnipeg parks

Over 100 city staff whose jobs are affected by the Manitoba public health orders will be stepping up to enforce those very restrictions at Winnipeg parks and outdoor spaces, Mayor Brian Bowman said Wednesday afternoon.

The city announced last week that up to 400 recreational workers would be offered jobs in the public works department, mainly maintaining parks or as part of the Community Safety Ambassadors program, which was relaunched to encourage provincial public health orders are followed in city parks and outdoor spaces.

The latest provincial health orders have forced the closure of many city-run recreation sites and services, including gyms, indoor pools, arenas and libraries. Leisure Guide programming has also been suspended. 

On Wednesday, Jay Shaw, the city’s assistant chief of emergency management, told reporters that 129 staff were redeployed to the safety ambassadors program and another 40 are joining public works.

“This is a temporary measure to support the provincial government’s public health orders,” Mayor Bowman said during a news conference.

“Once the current provincial measures conclude, staff affected by the closures will return to their normal work.”

Shaw noted that the safety ambassadors program is intended to focus on educating the public to ensure parks are safe places, rather than enforcement.

Those city workers will be in Assiniboine, St. Vital and Kildonan parks to encourage “voluntary compliance” of the public health orders, said Shaw. However, if those efforts are unsuccessful, they will call the city’s bylaw officers, who can issue warnings or tickets to people breaking the health rules, said Shaw.

Fines for breaching the health orders are $1,296 for individuals and $5,000 for corporations. Repeat offenders and people who do not pay their tickets on time face increased fines.

Jay Shaw, the city’s assistant chief of emergency management, says the Community Safety Ambassadors program is intended to focus on educating the public to ensure parks are safe places, rather than enforcement. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Both Bowman and Shaw urged Winnipeggers to do their civic duty and adhere to the public health restrictions on their own.

Another 402 new COVID-19 cases were announced in Manitoba Wednesday, including 252 in the Winnipeg health region.

The 40 recreational staff temporarily joining the public works department will help with litter pickup and general cleanup of areas such as parks, river walks, active transportation routes, sidewalks and back lanes, Shaw said.

No city staff have been laid off yet as a result of the latest restrictions, said Shaw. The city is still working with the community services department to see if more redeployments will occur.

“The goal is to get everyone an offer of work and to make sure that we’re taking care of our staff,” he said.

With the recent shift to warmer weather and an uptick in park use, the city felt it was necessary to start the safety ambassadors program and have teams working on cleanup and beautification, Shaw said.

The three parks specified for the program were selected because they are the largest and more popular in the city. More can be added to the list if needed, he said.

Celebrate Jets’ playoff run at home: Bowman

Meanwhile, with the Winnipeg Jets set to start a playoff run against the Edmonton Oilers Wednesday evening, Bowman urged Winnipeggers to take part in the traditional whiteout from the comfort of their own homes — unlike years past, when thousands would gather outside Bell MTS Place.

“I know it will go against the very DNA of every single Winnipeg Jets fan not to gather in large crowds in support of our Jets, but I really want to underscore the importance that Winnipeggers stay home,” the mayor told reporters while sporting a white Jets jersey.

“It’ll be difficult, but it’s just what we need to do during the pandemic.”

Bowman instead encouraged fans to post photos on social media of themselves cheering for the Winnipeg Jets from their homes.

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