B.C. to restrict non-essential travel between 3 provincial health zones
Those caught breaking the rules could be subject to $575 fine, public safety minister says
The government of B.C. is restricting non-essential travel between three regional zones within the province, effective immediately.
The legal orders under the provincial Emergency Program Act are designed to limit the spread of COVID-19.
"These measures, most importantly, can save lives. And it's in the best interest of all British Columbians to follow them," said Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth.
"There will be consequences for not following [them]."
The government is using provincial health authority regions to define the boundaries of the zones.
The three regional zones are:
- The Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley (Vancouver Coastal Health and Fraser Health areas).
- Vancouver Island (Island Health).
- Northern and Interior regions (Northern health and Interior Health).
A portion of the Vancouver Coastal Health region north of the Sunshine Coast that includes areas like Bella Coola will now be considered part of the combined Northern and Interior regions, as will the District of Hope and the Central Coast, the government clarified Friday afternoon.
The province is also working with police enforcement agencies to introduce additional measures to ensure they have the authority to conduct periodic roadside checks into and out of the defined regions.
"A contravention of this order may be subject to a $575 fine," said Farnworth.
WATCH | If you have to ask about travel, you probably already have your answer, Farnworth says:
Farnworth says the order affects those who are travelling across regional zones for recreational purposes, but it is OK to travel for reasons deemed essential, such as:
- attending school or work.
- transporting commercial goods.
- returning to a principal residence.
- accessing child care.
- using health care or assisting someone in obtaining health care.
"The new variant strains are infecting more people and resulting in record levels of hospitalizations that place a growing strain on the front-line health workers who have been here for us throughout this pandemic. To help protect them and our communities, we must do more to discourage travel and begin to enforce restrictions on non-essential travel," Farnworth said.
B.C. residents will not be able to book accommodations or camping sites outside their zone. Operators will cancel any bookings that have already been made.
B.C. Parks will ensure that anyone who has booked a provincial camping site outside of their zone will receive a refund.
BC Ferries will stop accepting bookings for recreational vehicles such as campers and trailers — and the ferry service will also contact passengers who have already made reservations to ensure they are essential travellers. It will not be implementing any extra sailings this year for the May long weekend.
Local camping, hiking still allowed
"This order is to ensure that people stop traversing large parts of the province," Farnworth said. "Go hiking, go camping, but do it locally."
Farnworth also said now is not the time for people from other provinces to travel to B.C., and inter-provincial travellers will be subject to the same consequences as residents.
"If you are coming into British Columbia from Alberta, and you decide you are now going to Vancouver … you potentially could get a fine," he said.
To that end, the province is working with the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure to increase signage along the B.C.- Alberta border.
The formal order for the restrictions is in effect until Tuesday, May 25, the end of the May long weekend.
Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the date was chosen because it's when the province expects to have 60 per cent of its adult population protected with a COVID-19 vaccine.
'Grave concerns' over enforcement
"Over the coming days, we will continue working with police to establish additional measures to ensure they have the necessary authority to conduct periodic roadside checks ... at strategic points into and out of the defined regions," Farnworth said. He compared it to the province's CounterAttack program, where police set up checkpoints to nab drunk drivers.
However, a group that represents front-line RCMP officers has pushed back against the roadblocks, saying it puts more pressure on limited resources and exposes officers to further risk and possible COVID-19 infections.
The National Police Federation released a statement on Wednesday noting it has "grave concerns'' about police taking part in enforcing a COVID-19 ban on non-essential travel.
Concern over expanded police powers
In a joint media release, 11 civil liberties, Indigenous and community groups expressed concern about the government's lack of consultation and use of police to monitor the new travel restrictions.
"Especially at a time of increased public scrutiny about 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," said Harsha Walia of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.
"After another year of police murders of Indigenous peoples in B.C. and Canada, we are shocked that the province decided to unilaterally expand police authority," said Kukpi7 Judy Wilson, of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs.
Watch: BCCLA executive director lays out concerns with travel restrictions
Farnworth urged people who might be confused about whether they can or can't enjoy outdoor activities outside their communities to simply stay put.
"If you really have to ask 'should I go out to Chilliwack?' the answer is 'No, you shouldn't if you live in Vancouver,' " he said. "If you live on the North Shore, that's your local area. Stay in that area."
With files from Canadian Press