British Columbia

British Columbians now face $25K fine, jail if they ignore public health orders over COVID-19

The B.C. government has issued a number of orders to ensure the public complies with mandatory public health orders and to secure the province's supply of food and medical supplies for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis.

Public safety minister issues series of emergency orders to ensure compliance, secure supply chain

B.C. Premier John Horgan at a news conference at the legislature in Victoria on Feb. 23, 2020. (Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press)

THE LATEST:

  • People who ignore public health orders can now be jailed or fined upward of $25,000.
  • Reselling essential supplies like food and cleaning material is now prohibited. 
  • The province is intervening to ensure the supply of food and medical supplies is secure.
  • Municipal states of emergency have been suspended.

The provincial government has taken a number of "unprecedented" steps to ensure people obey public health orders, stop hoarding vital supplies and secure the flow of essential goods into B.C.'s stores and hospitals during the COVID-19 crisis.

People who ignore public health orders, including a ban on large gatherings, can now be fined upwards of $25,000. Jail time is also possible, the province said Thursday.

City bylaw officers across the province now have the power to help enforce those orders, through education and potentially gathering evidence of a violation.

The province is also cracking down on the black market by prohibiting the resale of food, medical supplies, personal protective equipment, cleaning products and other essential supplies. People who ignore the order can be fined up to $10,000, jailed for one year, or both.

"These are unprecedented measures for unprecedented times," said Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth.

A new government unit has also been created to co-ordinate the distribution of vital goods and services in the province. Retailers and suppliers must now report to the unit on inventory of critical supplies, including medical supplies for frontline workers. Bylaws that restrict the delivery of goods to certain times of the day are being suspended.

The provincial government also on Thursday suspended local states of emergency declared in response to the pandemic, except for the City of Vancouver.

Enforcement on public health orders

Public health orders issued by Dr. Bonnie Henry include a ban on gatherings with 50 people or more, as well as an order for businesses to close if they can't run under physical distancing rules.

Henry declared a public health emergency on March 17, giving herself the power to issue verbal orders that are immediately enforceable. British Columbians have repeatedly been told to stay home as much as possible and keep at least two metres away from others when out in public to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Premier John Horgan said strict enforcement has become necessary because some people have still refused to comply with Henry's orders.

"The orders — they are not suggestions or good advice. They are the law," the premier said Thursday. "This is not a drill. This is a pandemic."

Reselling supplies now prohibited

The province has also forbidden the resale of essential supplies like food, medical supplies, personal protective equipment and cleaning products during the outbreak. People who ignore the ban can be fined up to $10,000, jailed for one year, or both.

"Selfish people, hoarders ... that's who we are speaking to today," Horgan said.

The province is also going to work with retailers to restrict the amount of vital supplies shoppers can buy at one time, to help prevent stockpiling.

A man walks through a closed food court at the Lonsdale Quay Market in North Vancouver on Monday. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

No 'lockdown,' premier says

Many across the province had called for a lockdown, similar to that in Ontario, ahead of Thursday's announcement. The premier said B.C. isn't taking that step at this time, but that could change if people do not listen to provincial orders.

"Dr. Henry has been abundantly clear: If you don't need to be out, stay home," said the premier.

"I think people are looking for terminology. If you want to use lockdown, fair enough," he continued. "Today, we believe we are on the right track ... if we need to do more, we will."

Local states of emergency suspended

The province on Thursday repealed any local states of emergency in effect in B.C. to ensure a top-down, co-ordinated response to the pandemic from the provincial level. The City of Vancouver is the sole exception because it has its own Charter.

"We want to reduce anxiety, we want to increase public confidence, and the best way to do that is to have a universal approach," Horgan said. "It's our view that the province is best placed [to] take the lead on these issues."

The province declared a state of emergency on March 18, giving itself new powers to use emergency tools if necessary to lessen the impact of the crisis without requiring legislative approval.

Several municipalities across B.C. passed their own, local states of emergency within days. Many communities gave slightly different messages and made slightly different rules, which led to provincial concern about a "patchwork" of regulations from 162 separate municipalities coming into play.

Mayors were warned during a conference call Monday that a centralized approach was coming, but some municipalities were disappointed to see their local efforts stripped away.

"We were trying to get it so they were a little bit safer and felt a little bit safer," said Doug Daugert, mayor of Port Clements on Haida Gwaii. 

The isolated village on the North Coast had created rules to ensure visitors to the island self-isolated for two weeks and to be sure all non-essential workers stopped coming into work. Daugert said the small communities on Haida Gwaii have unique needs that may not be met with a provincewide response strategy.

The province said Thursday suspending local states of emergencies will streamline co-ordination needed to potentially use local, publicly-owned facilities — such as community centres — for self-isolation, testing, medical care and warehousing during the pandemic.

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story misstated bylaw officers had the power to issue fines under the Public Health Act and Emergency Program Act. In fact, it is the court that decides on penalties.
    Mar 26, 2020 2:28 PM PT

With files from Justin McElroy and Nicole Oud

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