Anyone in British Columbia caught leaving one of three new regional zones to vacation in another area was supposed to face a fine as of Friday.
But Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor-General Mike Farnworth told reporters Friday there won’t be any enforcement by police until next week, when further details of the controversial $575 ticketing regime backstopping a pandemic-related travel ban will be finalized.
Mr. Farnworth said officers will eventually be tasked with conducting periodic road checks at key places on the borders of these three regions, adding he has had discussions with racialized communities on preventing this system from creating any potential discrimination.
“I want to make sure we address the concerns that people have,” he said of the delays in the rollout of enforcement. “And I want us to avoid the situation, for example, that happened in Ontario. So we are working with police very closely and ensuring that what comes out is what is right.”
Ontario gave police new powers this month to stop people on the streets and in their vehicles to ask why they had left their home, but retreated after several police forces said they wouldn’t conduct random inquiries and racialized groups warned of discriminatory practices.
In B.C., the rank-and-file Mounties who are likely to enforce the system are displeased they have been cut out of discussions between senior RCMP leadership and the province.
The National Police Federation, which represents 7,000 members of the RCMP in B.C., said it remains concerned about the “safety and ongoing lack of clarity” involving the ban.
“Many of our members are opposed to this proposal as it puts them at risk of public backlash, legal ambiguity and risk of exposure and possible infection due to the continuing slow immunization rollout for police in the province,” union president Brian Sauvé said in an e-mailed statement.
A coalition of community organizations, including the BC Civil Liberties Association and the First Nations Summit, issued a joint statement Friday calling for consultations before the new restrictions are imposed.
Harsha Walia, executive director of the BCCLA, said her organization supports the public-health aims of limiting travel, but the ticketing regime could exacerbate systemic racism in policing.
“It is alarming that we now have three public announcements in the span of one week about increased police enforcement powers, but we still do not have details about the scope of these policing powers,” she said in a news release. “In response to significant public pressure, it seems that the province is scaling back its plans, but we are still left to speculate.”
Attorney-General David Eby’s office has refused repeated requests to release the legal opinion on the new travel limits, saying it is confidential advice. But he said Friday, at an unrelated news conference, that government lawyers are still drafting up the rules of enforcement.
On Friday, Mr. Farnworth unveiled more details of his office’s order that, for now, will rely on scofflaw travellers telling the truth with no threat of a fine. He said the new ban stops anyone from engaging in non-essential travel outside of one of three regions where they live: Vancouver Island, the Lower Mainland and the rest of the province.
B.C.’s hotel and tourism industry groups are strongly encouraging all businesses to support the order by cancelling any bookings from people outside their regions, Mr. Farnworth said, and the provincial parks system is refunding campsite bookings where necessary. As well, B.C. Ferries says it is now asking all customers on six routes connecting the mainland to Vancouver Island and other islands whether their travel is essential. If they say no, then they will be denied passage, according to the Crown agency.
“The surest path to the success of these measures is voluntary compliance. If a friend or family member is planning to break the rules, let them know that now is not the time to travel,” Mr. Farnworth told reporters.
The Public Safety Minister said the new rules can’t stop Canadians from other provinces travelling to B.C., but once they’re on the West Coast they must stay in the region they enter. He added that signs will be put up along the B.C.-Alberta border telling the thousands of people who stream west over the Rockies in search of relaxation and recreation to stay home.
Ingrid Jarrett, president and chief executive officer of the BC Hotel Association, said her group has sent out a tool kit for hotel owners to train staff on how to reschedule or refund someone’s booking using a script. But, she said it should not be up to front-line hospitality workers to enforce this travel ban.
“Three’s some real confusing messaging there,” she said.
With a report from The Canadian Press
We have a weekly Western Canada newsletter written by our B.C. and Alberta bureau chiefs, providing a comprehensive package of the news you need to know about the region and its place in the issues facing Canada. Sign up today.