People spend a day in the sun at Vancouver’s English Bay in March. Bylaw officers, park rangers and police are working out how to keep the public educated about physical distancing. Photo: Gerry Green/Twitter

People spend a day in the sun at Vancouver’s English Bay in March. Bylaw officers, park rangers and police are working out how to keep the public educated about physical distancing. Photo: Gerry Green/Twitter

Education, not enforcement: B.C. bylaw officers keeping a watch on physical distancing

A kind word, it turns out, has usually been all people need to hear

The message appears to have been received — officers in charge of keeping an eye on physical distancing say British Columbians are steering clear of each other.

An order by Mike Farnworth, Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General, on March 26 gave municipal bylaw officers the power to act on gatherings of more than 50 people in public spaces or on private businesses such as restaurants that contravened provincial health orders meant to contain the spread of COVID-19.

Black Press Media examined municipalities across B.C. to see how Farnworth’s orders have been followed. Enforcement, it turns out, is often unnecessary and not as effective as a kind reminder to keep two metres apart.

Surrey

Cpl. Elenore Sturko, an RCMP media officer in Surrey, is part of a joint team that was organized by police and city bylaw officers following Farnworth’s announcement.

As of Thursday, officers had issued just nine warnings to 202 businesses that had been visited and also found parks including the popular Crescent Beach were usually quiet.

Sturko said officers have found a willingness in Surrey’s residents to do the right thing. The businesses that required a warning, she added, were not trying to flout the rules.

“We’re not seeing a lot of people willfully or purposefully putting people at risk,” she said.

READ MORE: Most abiding by COVID-19 rules, back fines, arrests of those who aren’t: poll

Vancouver

Generally cities, and not police departments, are in charge of bylaw officers, and have been taking the lead on Farnworth’s order. Vancouver’s municipal police, for example, are not issuing tickets or taking calls about distancing.

A City of Vancouver spokesperson told Black Press its bylaw officers made 9,295 restaurant inspections and also checked on 2,658 personal care facilities. Only one restaurant, a Tim Hortons, had its business licence suspended and was forced to close for three days.

The Vancouver Park Board, meanwhile, has jurisdiction over the city’s 230-plus parks. Park board spokesperson Christine Ulmer said over 5,000 signs reminding residents to keep their space have been placed, parking lots have been closed to discourage traffic, and park rangers have been deployed to the city’s popular destinations like Kitsilano Beach and Stanley Park.

“They have found people are really responsive, really acceptive, a little sheepish and apologetic when they realize they are too close,” said Ulmer. “It’s been really positively received, which is really helpful.”

Those rangers also have the ability to issue their own fines, but haven’t yet.

“It’s not in the direction we want to go,” said Ulmer. “It’s difficult financial times for a lot of people. I think slapping heavy penalties is probably a last resort.”

But not every city has the resources Vancouver has.

Victoria

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said during a press conference Monday that her city doesn’t have bylaw officers to spare. She hoped Emergency Management B.C., which co-ordinates provincial disaster planning, would help with additional resources.

“Just follow the rules because not doing so is really costly, not only to public health but it’s really costly from a bottom line point of view,” said Helps. “We don’t want to hire more bylaw officers, we don’t want to spend more taxpayer dollars on bylaw.”

It appears police have stepped in over the last few weeks, at one point breaking up a party of young people who had gathered.

READ MORE: Partying Victoria-area youth told police they are ‘immune’ to COVID-19

In an email to Black Press, a spokesperson for Emergency Management B.C. said compliance staff from other ministries, such as liquor and cannabis control officers, would be redeployed to support municipalities.

A joint organization by the Ministries of Public Safety, Attorney General, Municipal Affairs and Emergency Management B.C. has also been set up to support enforcement of the public health orders.

“This unified command structure will work to provide guidance to bylaw and compliance officers and look into potential issues around resources and cross-government communication,” said the spokesperson.

Whistler, Cranbrook

Some cities haven’t seen a need for more bylaw officers.

In Whistler, for example, a spokesperson said officers are active, but there have been few reported cases of non-compliance. That message was the same across the province in Cranbrook, according to the city’s manager of building and bylaw services Tony Luce.

“Given the low volume of complaint driven calls that we have received at least to date, we like to think the messaging from our PHO [Provincial Health Officer] is getting recognized in our community,” said Luce in an email.

READ MORE: Couple won’t self-isolate after returning from overseas: Cowichan bylaw

Penticton, Kelowna

In Penticton, bylaw officers received only 11 complaints between March 25 to 30, including another about a person who wasn’t self-isolating, according to bylaw services supervisor Tina Siebert.

While bylaw officers can enforce the provincial health order, they can’t actually issue fines. In practice this means officers report back to health authorities, who then decide on penalties. Kelowna, for example, announced its own bylaw enforcement measures Friday, but stipulated Interior Health would be in charge of financial penalties.

Nelson

In Nelson, where the municipal police department administrates and supervises bylaw officers, Chief Paul Burkart said he’s advised staff that education is the goal with physical distancing. Enforcement, he added, is more about reminding residents of the rules and, if necessary, following up with the health authority.

“We’re not out there with a tape measure, because that’s not enforceable as far as we’re concerned,” he said.

And in B.C., that mostly hasn’t been necessary.

Education, not enforcement

Sturko said she hopes the public understands bylaw officers are working in good faith when they approach people on the street, in parks and in businesses.

“The bottom line is that this exercise and these functions that we’re doing are really not meant to be about punishing. What it’s meant to do is bring people into compliance,” she said.

“What we want to do is educate people, let them know what the deficiencies are, and hopefully achieve the goal which is to make sure people are doing things which have been ordered in order to help us all stay safe and healthy.”

As for the federal Quarantine Act, which the federal government has activated to enforce a mandatory 14-day self-isolation for anyone returning to Canada from overseas, while by-law may receive calls from concerned citizens over neighbours disobeying this law they cannot issue tickets.

Instead, federal officials are working with law enforcement to develop a strategy in how to ensure compliance and punish those who don’t listen with penalties and fines.



tyler.harper@nelsonstar.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Residents of the Cowichan Valley decorated more than 55 vehicles with anti-racist slogans for a car rally in support of Cowichan Tribes on Saturday, January 24. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
Dozens join anti-racism car rally and virtual panel in Cowichan Valley

Provincial ministry and BC Green caucus issue joint statement detailing concerns

Island Health is expected to begin public consultations soon on its controversial plans to open a new wellness and recovery centre at 5878 York Road. (File photo)
Public consultations on Duncan wellness and recovery centre coming in February

Controversial facility on York Road scheduled to open in June

Jerry Dyck plans to purchase a new RV to drive across Canada in, once it’s safe to travel again. (Courtesy BCLC)
Victoria man plans post-pandemic cross-Canada RV trip after $2M lottery win

Retired electrician bought the winning ticket in Duncan

Providence Health Care has teamed up with partners, including Island Health, to launch the first remote cochlear implant (CI) mapping program for adults in British Columbia. Duncan’s Alan Holt was one of the first to test it out. (Submitted)
Remote cochlear clinic offers shorter commute for patients like Duncan’s Alan Holt

Duncan man one of the first to test virtual mapping program

Larry Fiege, right, from Fiege’s Farm shows a rapt audience the old-fashioned way to tap a Bigleaf Maple during the Maple Syrup Festival at the BC Forest Discovery Centre Feb. 1 and 2, 2020. (Andrea Rondeau/Citizen)
Maple Syrup Festival in Duncan cancelled

The annual syrup festival is a popular event at the BC Forest Discovery Centre

Crews with Discovery Channel film as an Aggressive Towing driver moves a Grumman S2F Tracker aircraft around a 90-degree turn from its compound and onto the road on Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021. It was the “most difficult” part of the move for the airplane, one organizer said. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: Vintage military plane gets towed from Chilliwack to Greater Victoria

Grumman CP-121 Tracker’s eventual home the British Columbia Aviation Museum on Vancouver Island

Jesse Savidant, 31, is wanted by the RCMP after failing to appear in provincial court in Nanaimo in December. Police warn Savidant should be considered violent. (Photo Submitted)
Warrant out for man accused of stolen property offences across Vancouver Island

Jesse Savidant did not appear for court date in Nanaimo last month, say RCMP

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Rolling seven-day average of cases by B.C. health authority to Jan. 21. Fraser Health in purple, Vancouver Coastal red, Interior Health orange, Northern Health green and Vancouver Island blue. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
2nd COVID vaccine doses on hold as B.C. delivery delayed again

New COVID-19 cases slowing in Fraser Health region

The Pacific Rim National Park Reserve is urging visitors to stay on designated trails after a hiker became injured in an unsanctioned area last week. (Westerly file photo)
Injured hiker rescued in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

“Safety is everyone’s responsibility.”

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry talk about the next steps in B.C.’s COVID-19 Immunization Plan during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, January 22, 2021. Two more cases of the COVID-19 strain first identified in South Africa have been diagnosed in British Columbia, bringing the total to three as of Jan. 16.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. now has three cases of South African COVID-19 variant, six of U.K. strain

Both variants are thought to spread faster than earlier strains

Rodney and Ekaterina Baker in an undated photo from social media. The couple has been ticketed and charged under the Yukon’s <em>Civil Emergency Measures Act</em> for breaking isolation requirements in order to sneak into a vaccine clinic and receive Moderna vaccine doses in Beaver Creek. (Facebook/Submitted)
Great Canadian Gaming CEO resigns after being accused of sneaking into Yukon for vaccine

Rod Baker and Ekaterina Baker were charged with two CEMA violations each

Police discovered a makeshift nightclub in a Vancouver apartment on Jan. 23, 2021, and say it wasn’t the first time this month officers have been called to the unit over social gathering concerns. (Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
Doorman of makeshift ‘booze-can’ in Vancouver apartment fined; police look to court order

This marks the fourth complaint about social gatherings inside the apartment in January

Local musician and artist Daisy Melville created a watercolour portrait of U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders from the recent American inauguration, and with help from her mom, is now selling t-shirts and more with funds going to the Comox Valley Food Bank. Image submitted
Island artist turns Sanders inauguration meme into art for good

All proceeds from the sale of shirts, sweaters and more will go to the Comox Valley Food Bank

Most Read