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B.C. to enforce financial penalties for COVID-19 rule-breakers

Mike Farnworth says fines of up to $2,000 could be issued for illegal party organizers
A drum circle during COVID-19 with what appears to be more than 50 people at Vancouver's Third Beach. (via Submitted)

The provincial government says it is enabling police and bylaw authorities to issue $2,000 penalties to organizers of large events and gatherings, as well as $200 tickets individuals who refuse to leave parties or follow safe operating plans at places like restaurants. 

Minister of Public Safety Mike Farnworth announced the measures Friday, explaining many of the recent coronavirus cases in B.C. have been linked to private indoor house parties. 

“There is a small minority of selfish individuals across the province who are disregarding the public health measures in place,” Farnworth said. 

“Enough is enough,” he added.

The $2,000 tickets will be issued to organizers of events or owners of properties that facilitate large gatherings of more than 50 people. Not keeping a list and contact information of event attendees, or hosting more than five guests in a vacation rental will also incur the $2,000 fine.

“We will be targeting venues, promoters and as necessary, we’ll also be taking action against problematic attendees and individuals,” Farnworth said.

Police and bylaw will be able to issue $200 tickets to anyone actively encouraging large events or refusing to disperse when directed to do so. Anyone who refuses to follow a businesses guidelines or engages in “bullying or abusive” behaviour towards employees can also be fined $200.

“People make mistakes. If you are asked to leave a gathering, leave. Don’t yell at the waiter who asks you not to push your tables together at a restaurant,” Farnworth said.

He adds most of his concern comes from large indoor gatherings, based on feedback provided by health officials. He also addressed outdoor gatherings, such as at beaches. Farnworth said in one instance an organizer asked people to come to an outdoor gathering and for people to not wear masks, which he said is a violation of orders. Mask wearing is not mandatory outdoors and B.C. health officials have stated there is little evidence such events result in spread of the disease.

Farnworth used an example of people crammed into a kitchen at a house party and said tickets could now be issued for attendees who do not disperse upon request.

Those concerned about violations should contact their local bylaw office, or if one is not available, the local police’s non-emergency line.

“We cannot expect our health officers to break up parties in the middle of the night,” Farnworth added. “A party is not worth someone’s life, let’s get back on track”

The following is the full release from B.C.'s Public Safety Ministry and Solicitor General's office.

Police and other provincial enforcement officers are being given the ability to issue $2,000 violation tickets for owners or organizers contravening the provincial health officer’s (PHO) order on gatherings and events.

They will also be able to issue $200 violation tickets to individuals not following the direction of police or enforcement staff at events or who refuse to comply with requests to follow PHO orders or safe operating procedures, or respond with abusive behaviour.  

Effective immediately, these new measures are enacted under the provincial state of emergency, using the extraordinary powers of the Emergency Program Act (EPA) in ongoing support of B.C.’s COVID-19 response and Restart Plan.

“These orders will help us put a stop to the selfish acts of a small minority of British Columbians, who are threatening to erode the progress our province has made in controlling COVID-19,” said Mike Farnworth, Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General. “While I’m disappointed these measures are now necessary, I am taking this action to give police agencies and provincial enforcement officers the ability to take action against those who are putting people’s lives at risk.”

In addition to enabling action from police, the Province is enlisting compliance and enforcement staff from provincial ministries to support enforcement and help issue tickets for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes liquor, cannabis and gaming inspectors, community safety unit inspectors and conservation officers.

“As a regional federation of local governments, we welcome these new measures, and we look forward to collaborating with the Province to ensure a co-ordinated and thoughtful response to COVID-19,” said Linda Buchanan, vice-chair, Metro Vancouver board of directors. “Metro Vancouver will continue its critical role as a convener on ideas and strategies for preventing the spread of COVID-19 in our region and supporting the Province in keeping COVID-19 at bay."

The enforcement focus will be on $2,000 fines to owners, operators and organizers for contraventions of the provincial health officer’s order on gatherings and events. This includes hosting a private party or public event in excess of 50 people, failing to provide appropriate hand sanitation and washroom facilities, failing to provide sufficient space in the venue for physical distancing, failing to obtain a list of names and contacts at  large event or having more than five guests gathered in a vacation accommodation.

When required, police and other provincial enforcement officers will also be able to actively enforce the order and ticket a series of other infractions, including:

  • $200 violation tickets for individuals who actively encourage others to attend gatherings or events that do not comply with established requirements, or refuse to leave or disperse when directed to do so by enforcement officers; and,
  • $200 violation tickets for individuals who refuse to comply with requests to follow the PHO order or safe operating procedures of a restaurant, bar or other licensed establishment, or respond with abusive behaviour towards employees.

Violation tickets expand the Province’s enforcement toolkit to support the COVID-19 response. Police and other provincial enforcement officers will independently exercise discretion to issue tickets for Emergency Program Act order violations under the Offence Act’s Violation Ticket Administration and Fines Regulation.

If violation tickets do not act as a deterrent, or in cases of particularly egregious contraventions or for repeat offenders, police can recommend charges in relation to the offence. On conviction, judicial penalties of up to $10,000 may be levied.

“ABLE BC is pleased to see the Province step up compliance and enforcement during this recent surge in COVID-19 cases, and we’re happy to assist where we can,” said Jeff Guignard, executive director of the Alliance of Beverage Licensees. “Our primary concern continues to be the health and safety of both patrons and workers in British Columbia.”

Working in partnership with local governments and other agencies, a comprehensive and integrated compliance and enforcement regime is being built to manage the recent surge in COVID-19 cases. These violation tickets build on existing tools, such as the ability to suspend or revoke the business or liquor licenses of problematic operators.

Quick Facts:

  • The specifics around orders of the PHO, including the numbers allowable at gatherings, will continue to be set at the direction of the PHO.
  • To report concerns around order violations from event organizers, venues or individuals, contact your local government’s bylaw office. Local bylaw officers can help followup on concerns and engage the Unified Command Centre, police departments, health officers and WorkSafeBC as necessary. If unable to reach a local bylaw office, contact your local police department’s non-emergency line.
  • An additional measure in this Emergency Program Act order is the requirement for compliance and enforcement agencies (i.e., police departments, local authorities) to report on these activities when requested.

- with files from Colin Dacre, Castanet, and Graeme Wood, Glacier Media