The police chief of a southern Manitoba community has posted a lengthy statement online saying the anger and resentment in the debate over COVID-19 restrictions and vaccinations has to stop.

"Someone needs to stand up for this community as we are being driven increasingly further apart," Winkler Police Service Chief Ryan Hunt says in the post on the Winkler Police Service's Facebook page. "This problem has seemingly become magnified over the last few weeks.  As the Chief of Police, I try to stay neutral but I think the situation has escalated to the point where I cannot stay silent any longer."

Hunt says that he believes his community is a great one and that Winkler "did not become great by acting the way we currently are.  We are allowed to have different opinions but we should not let them divide us."

"Something has to change. The anger and resentment that we are seeing in our community are unacceptable. We are better than this."

Hunt says he's seeing anger towards business owners who are trying to follow the health orders, as well as anger towards businesses that aren't following the new rules. "To get mad at the young staff members is just…well it’s just ridiculous.  I don’t think that is what Jesus would do," he writes in the post.

Last week, all seven members of the Winkler city council voted against a motion to make the community a "sanctuary city" following a petition from a group seeking exemption from COVID-19 health mandates. Hunt says that the pandemic is real and people choosing to disobey rules should not be angered if they receive tickets as a result.

He points out that "Our rights here in Canada can in fact be limited – it is written right into the first section of the Charter.  The government can certainly impose restrictions on us – it is foolish to believe that there could never be a circumstance where the government could not restrict what we do.  That doesn’t even make sense, of course, they can – desperate times call for desperate measures.  We already live with laws that restrict what we can do.  Covid restrictions are intended to protect not punish."

"For those of you that decide to go about life as usual and not follow the health orders, you are taking the risk of receiving a ticket.  If you do receive a ticket do not be surprised and do not get angry – that is a consequence of the risk you took.  You were well aware of the consequences when you made your decision not to follow the health order.  Accept the ticket, you always have the option of contesting the ticket in court – that is your right.  It is concerning to realize that drug traffickers and career criminals are more respectful to law enforcement than people who decide not to wear a mask."

Hunt also addressed a local social media group "that claims to be stopping the division by making Winkler a place where everyone can decide what they want to do – 'freedom of choice' they say without considering those who are affected by their non-compliance. That group, or maybe more specifically the spokesperson for that group, is only adding to the division.  Referring to people as 'ignorant' on social media or driving around town with a life-size stuffed toy sheep wearing a mask in the passenger seat does not help to bring the community together. I assume the intent of this display is to classify those who wear masks and obey the health orders as sheep or followers.  How does that bring us closer together?"

The police chief says that he is fully vaccinated and encourages others to get the vaccine and says that the best way to bring an end to the pandemic is to follow public health orders. However, he adds, " I also realize that taking the vaccine is a decision not to be taken lightly and therefore I will not villainize those who hold a different opinion."

The responses to the post have been overwhelmingly positive, with over 2,000 reactions, and only 10 of those reactions negative ones as of Monday morning. Over 700 people have also commented on the post and again the comments are overwhelmingly in favour of the post.


With files from The Canadian Press