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Valley Journal Advertiser - 2021-11-23

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Fines hiked for ignoring public health orders

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JOHN MCPHEE SALTWIRE NETWORK jmcphee@herald.ca @chronicleherald

A new set of fines that top out at $57,622 will target the organizers of gatherings that ignore public health orders in the wake of a religious event linked to a deadly COVID-19 outbreak. A new offence category, effective Nov. 18, will hold organizers directly responsible for contravening the Health Protection Act, the Nova Scotia government said in a news release. Fines will start at the highest maximum penalty under the act of $2,422 for a first offence and increase to $11,622 for individuals who either organize or attend an illegal gathering. Organizations will be fined the highest maximum penalty under the act of $11,622 for a first offence and $57,622 for the second and each subsequent offence. Individuals can also face jail time, the release said. The fines include victim surcharge and other court fees. “I don’t want any more loved ones being lost due to this type of reckless behaviour and the fines that were in place were not enough to discourage it,” Premier Tim Houston said in the release. “My hope is that by substantially increasing fines and increasing enforcement we can save lives.” The move follows Houston’s comments at a news briefing earlier in the week when he said the maximum fine levied against an Amherst pastor wasn’t high enough. “COVID is serious, it’s dangerous and it’s still around us and those who ignore the rules, there needs to be a deterrent and the fines as they were, were not appropriate, so we have taken action to adjust them where we can without going back to the legislature,” the premier told reporters after a Nov. 18 cabinet meeting. “$11,000 is the highest we can go without going back and making some legislative changes.” The provincial Environment Department fined Robert Smith, pastor of the Gospel Light Baptist Church in Amherst, $2,422 Nov. 17 for breaking the COVID-19 order under the Health Protection Act. The church organized a multi-day religious camp in Amherst in late October. There should have been a proof of full vaccination policy in place but public health officials said most people who attended the camp were not vaccinated. Attendees brought the virus back into their home communities, including the East Cumberland Lodge nursing home in Pugwash where two residents have died in a COVID-19 outbreak. The death of a resident at a group home in Amherst also has been linked to spread from the gathering.

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