Bylaw officers in North Cowichan had received 10 complaints from the public in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic between March 30 and April 5.
However, according to a staff report written by Mark Frame, the municipality’s general manager of financial and protective services, only seven of the complaints were actionable due to lack of information for follow up by bylaw officers.
Some of the concerns from the public included travellers who returned to the area prior to March 26 when the new federal Quarantine Act came into force and are not self-isolating, and those returning after March 26 who are not quarantining themselves, as is now required.
Other concerns raised included the handling of food containers and bags at fast-food drive-through service windows, and private gyms that were still operating at the time; although all the gyms connected to the complaints have closed as of April 9.
But Frame points out the limited authority bylaw officers have to enforce the new rules and laws around the COVID-19 crisis.
He said the the Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth issued a ministerial order on March 26 regarding the enforcement of provincial health orders which limits the authority of local bylaw officers to assisting provincial public health officers with enforcement.
A couple from the Cowichan Valley who had recently returned from an overseas trip created a local controversy when they refused to self isolate, even when North Cowichan bylaw officers paid them a visit after receiving complaints and provided them with information on the new rules.
Exactly who was responsible for the enforcement of the Quarantine Act, which calls for hefty fines and even lengthy prison terms for those who refuse to quarantine themselves after returning from trips, was unclear at the time, but the RCMP has since been asked by the Public Health Agency of Canada to help with the national coordination and enforcement of the Act.
“Arrests would be a last resort, based on the circumstance and the officer’s risk assessment,” the RCMP said in a statement.
Information on just how many Canadians have actually been charged under the Quarantine Act, and what charges they face, is not currently available, but the federal government announced last week that 23 Canadians were being held in quarantine camps across the country.
Frame said in his report that during North Cowichan’s bylaw officers’ patrols of public facilities and popular parks and trails, they have had numerous conversations with individuals who continue to use the skate parks, or who fail to comply with the provincial social distancing measures.
“Although officers have found the individuals to be polite and compliant when confronted, they are not convinced that individuals will continue to comply in the future as the weather turns nicer and the public grows tired of staying home,” Frame said.
“However, it is clear from [the ministerial order] that obtaining ministerial approval on a bylaw to regulate social distancing on public lands would be very unlikely.”