Delta police have 'no powers' to stop meetings of COVID-19 conspiracy theorists, chief says
Licence for Mak Parhar's yoga studio was suspended after he spread false claims about the novel coronavirus
Delta's chief of police says his officers have considered every possible avenue for dealing with a local yoga studio owner who flouted physical distancing guidelines to host a recent gathering of people who believe COVID-19 is a hoax.
But so far, they haven't found any law they can use to stop Bikram Yoga Delta owner Mak Parhar from bringing large groups of people into his closed studio to share their conspiracy theories, Delta police Chief Neil Dubord told CBC News.
That's why Delta Mayor George Harvie is writing to the provincial government to ask for more power to enforce public health orders and advice.
"Many people are wondering why the police can't do something, because there's a social responsibility element to this that the public expects someone to pay attention to," Dubord said.
"There's that expectation the public has for either the police or bylaw to do something but we find ourselves with no powers or no legislation to be able to support us being able to take any action at this time."
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has asked all businesses that can't keep a two-metre distance between people to close in order to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Last month, the city suspended Parhar's business licence after he encouraged students to continue coming to his classes in defiance of COVID-19 fears, telling them, "this supposed virus cannot survive in the heat."
He told CBC he believed Henry was "fear-mongering" about the disease, because "everybody I've talked to — hundreds of people — nobody actually knows anybody that has the coronavirus."
'Anti-covidiot' meeting in Delta
Not long after he was shut down, Parhar posted in the Flat Earth Vancouver Facebook group to invite members to a meeting at his studio on March 29, as their regular meeting had been cancelled because of COVID-19 concerns.
Videos and photos taken at the event show that about two dozen people turned up for what Parhar called an "anti-covidiot" meeting, and discussed their theory that COVID-19 is a hoax perpetrated by shadowy forces.
Dubord said a video of the meet-up was forwarded to Delta police, and officers looked into four possible ways to deal with the situation. They couldn't find a criminal offence, a violation of provincial regulations, or a breach of municipal bylaws — and police in Delta don't have the power to ticket and detain people in relation to public health orders.
Delta councillors voted on Monday to ask the province for more enforcement powers, specifically to deal with "a situation such as Mr. Parhar," Dubord said.
Parhar's activities have also gained the attention of police in New Westminster, where he recently filmed a video in which he "investigates" the COVID-19 isolation area at Royal Columbian Hospital. As first reported by Global News, his videos have drawn the ire of Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth, who said Parhar is putting health-care workers at risk.
New Westminster Police Department spokesperson Sgt. Jeff Scott said police are aware of the video taken at Royal Columbian.
"We do encourage anyone with concerns about physical distancing to contact the bylaw office," Scott wrote in an email.
CBC News contacted Parhar several times over email and phone for a response, but did not get a reply.