It’s not an everyday occurrence to be stopped by police and be given money.
But that’s what’s happening in Kahnawake, south of Montreal, as a part of a new education initiative by the Kahnawake Peacekeepers and the community’s COVID-19 task force.
Officers on patrol are giving away $10 gift certificates to youth they observe setting a good example by wearing masks, physical distancing, and respecting the community’s public health measures.
“The initiative is aimed at informing youth on safe ways to gather while the pandemic is going on, and acknowledge the youth who are already practising good prevention,” said Kyle Zachary, the Peacekeepers’ public relations officer.
Since the pandemic began, Kahnawake has taken charge of creating its own public health measures which sometimes have differed from the province’s.
After the community wrapped up the first phase of its mass vaccination campaign, some measures were relaxed such as allowing non-contact outdoor sports and outdoor gatherings of up to eight people — as long as distancing, masking, and hand washing is respected.
Roughly 75 per cent of community members aged 16 and up have received at least one shot of the COVID-19 vaccine but the task force stated that many of the new infections have been among people under the age of 20.
“Of the 25 cases that we’ve had in the third wave, three quarters of them are youth,” said Lisa Westaway, executive director of the Kateri Memorial Hospital Centre and member of the task force.
“We wanted to do something positive and didn’t want to use enforcement to get them to understand the safety measures. We know that youth need to be doing something, they can’t just be sitting at home, so we wanted to find a way for them to do that safely.”
There have also been more cases in total in the community in the 10-19 year age bracket than any other.
“This is just one way to set an example for the youth,” said Zachary.
“We’re trying to get the youth to realize that their actions still have consequences, especially when it comes to transmission of the virus. At the same time we’re providing incentives for them to comply with these directives.”
‘A good incentive’
The task force purchased $500 worth of gift certificates, which can be used at most local businesses, and the Peacekeepers will continue handing them out over the weekend.
Cooper Rice, 10, was one of the first eight youth to receive one. He was stopped on his way home from school Wednesday, and told CBC News that it was “awesome.”
His mom Karley Diabo said the pandemic hasn’t been easy with her four children.
“Trying to keep them in the house and away from their friends, especially the teenagers, has been tough,” she said.
“It’s a good incentive for the youth. The children are now excited; it’s going to promote social distancing and we’ll see more children wearing their masks knowing that they could possibly get a reward for doing so.”
The Peacekeepers said the initiative falls in line with its approach of community policing when it comes to enforcement of public health measures.
“That means not just throwing the book at a person right away when there’s an infraction. There’s an element of education, warning, and then if the behaviour doesn’t change that’s when we move to enforcement,” said Zachary.
“This is the same approach we’ve been using with public health directives and it’s only happened once where we’ve had to enforce and issue tickets for gatherings.”