Neighbours across British Columbia can now call in the authorities to levy a $2,000 fine against anyone holding a party that is too crowded, a move the province says is necessary to slow the number of COVID-19 infections among younger adults intent on partying in private.
Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor-General Mike Farnworth announced a ticketing regime Friday that also enables B.C.‘s police and other agents, such as conservation officers as well as liquor, cannabis and gambling inspectors, to issue $200 tickets to anyone who promotes events that break the pandemic rules or refuses to leave such a party. Enforcement of the complaints-driven system will focus primarily on indoor partying, where the risk of the novel coronavirus being transmitted is substantially higher, Mr. Farnworth said.
“We cannot expect our health officers to break up parties in the middle of the night, scan social media for unsanctioned events or be available in every corner of the province,” he told reporters. “We’re making sure that those making selfish decisions are risking more than their reputations.”
Hosts of a private party can also be fined $2,000 for having more than 50 guests, not providing hand sanitizer or washrooms, and not keeping a list of attendees with their contact information.
In a bid to help restaurant, bar and nightclub staff enforce physical distancing and other public-health rules, the authorities can also issue the $200 fines against unco-operative or abusive patrons, he said.
“Don’t be belligerent toward the hardworking people who are trying to keep us all safe,” Mr. Farnworth said.
As a restart to school approaches, infections among adults younger than 40 are rising across the province. This week, B.C. has amassed an average of more than 70 new infections daily, and six of the eight public spaces currently linked to outbreaks by the Vancouver Coastal Health authority are downtown bars or clubs.
The city of Vancouver issued a news release Friday urging people to call 311 – not 911 – to report any illegal parties.
Last month, Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry amended an order on mass events to curtail partying at vacation rentals and hotels after boozy Canada Day weekend parties in the summer tourist hot spot of Kelowna led to a large cluster of infections. The rules force the owner of any room or rental unit to store the contact information of every guest and limit any extra visitors they may invite over to five people.
On Friday, neither Mr. Farnworth nor spokespeople for the provincial government could provide statistics on how many times the authorities have invoked this order to stop parties on houseboats or Airbnb units over the past month.
In June, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association released a report into the estimated 10,000 tickets or charges that police levied against people breaking COVID-19 rules from April to mid-June, mostly in Quebec, Ontario and Nova Scotia. The non-profit interviewed recipients of these fines from those three provinces and found this enforcement was often overzealous and disproportionately applied to Black, Indigenous, and other racialized people, as well as those living on the street and other vulnerable groups.
Harsha Walia, the executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, said it is understandable the government wants to crack down on reckless partygoers amid the current pandemic. However, she said police officers will need to enter private property to count the number of guests at these parties, and these searches without warrants might violate a host’s Charter protection from unreasonable search and seizure.
“It may be that the courts find that this is justifiable, but the Charter is certainly engaged,” Ms. Walia said.
Mr. Farnworth said the province has the authority under the Emergency Program Act to use these extraordinary powers, given the unprecedented threat of the coronavirus.
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