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

District of Vanderhoof municipal office. (Aman Parhar/Omineca Express)
Vanderhoof district rejects FOI request for business name

Officials will release more information about the restaurant on May 21

Audrey McKinnon is seeking the NDP nomination for the federal riding of Cariboo-Prince George. (Twitter)
Audrey McKinnon puts name forward for NDP for federal election

McKinnon preparing for a contested nomination for Prince George-Cariboo riding

Michael Rees at his studio on the first floor of the old Burrard Market Square building. (Aman Parhar/Omineca Express)
Painter and print-maker showcased at Vanderhoof Street Art Show

Michael Rees uses narrative in a majority of his work

Restaurant patrons enjoy the weather on a patio in Vancouver, B.C., Monday, April 5, 2021. The province has suspended indoor dining at restaurants and pubs until at least April 19 in B.C. due to a spike in COVID-19 numbers. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. sets new COVID-19 daily record with 1,293 cases Thursday

New order allows workplace closures when infections found

The new 3,500 hectare conservancy in Tahltan territory is located next to Mount Edziza Provincial Park. (BC Parks Photo)
New conservancy protects sacred Tahltan land near Mount Edziza Provincial Park

Project is a collaboration between Skeena Resources, conservation groups and the TCG

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
1,262 more COVID-19 infections in B.C. Friday, 9,574 active cases

Province’s mass vaccination reaches one million people

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod, seen here on April 9, 2021 with four-year-old sister Elena and mom Vanessa, was born with limb differences. The family, including husband/dad Sean McLeod, is looking for a family puppy that also has a limb difference. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. family looking for puppy with limb difference, just like 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy McLeod born as bilateral amputee, now her family wants to find ‘companion’ puppy for her

A vehicle that was driven through the wall of a parkade at Uptown Shopping Centre and into the nearby Walmart on April 9 was removed through another hole in the wall later that night. (Photo via Saanich Police Department and Ayush Kakkar)
Vehicle launched into B.C. Walmart removed following rescue of trapped workers

Crews cut new hole in parkade wall to remove vehicle safely

Four members with Divers for Cleaner Lakes and Oceans were out at Cultus Lake on March 28 and 29 hauling trash out of the waters. (Henry Wang)
PHOTOS: Out-of-town divers remove 100s of pounds of trash from Cultus Lake

Members of Divers for Cleaner Lakes and Oceans hauled out 470 pounds of trash over two days

As of Saturday, April 10, people born in 1961 are the latest to be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine. (Black Press files)
B.C. residents age 60+ can now register to get their COVID-19 vaccine

Vaccine registration is now open to people born in 1961 or earlier

A new saline gargle test, made in B.C., will soon be replacing COVID-19 nasal swab tests for kids. (PHSA screenshot)
Take-home COVID-19 tests available for some B.C. students who fall ill at school

BC Children’s Hospital plans to provide 1,200 kits to Vancouver district schools this April

Ruming Jiang and his dog Chiu Chiu are doing fine following a brush with hypothermia that saw several people work together to get them out of the Fraser River near Langley’s Derby Reach Park on March 25, 2021 (Special to the Advance Times)
Man finds men who rescued him from drowning in B.C.’s Fraser River

A grateful Ruming Jiang says he will thank them again, this time in person when the pandemic ends

Tyson Ginter, 7, is proud of his latest Hot Wheels he recently received by Quesnel RCMP Const. Matt Joyce. (Photo submitted)
B.C. Mountie handing out toy cars to light up children’s faces

‘A lot of times it will be the only interaction they have with the police,’ says Const. Matt Joyce

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam speaks during a technical briefing on the COVID pandemic in Canada, Friday, January 15, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s ICUs see near-record of COVID-19 patients last week as variant cases double

Last week, Canadian hospitals treated an average of 2,500 patients with COVID-19, daily, up 7% from the previous week

Most Read