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

Maple Ridge artist Zoran Malinovski has a new online exhibition called What’s Happening. (Angie Malinovski/Special to The News)
Exhibition by Maple Ridge artist brings environment back to the forefront

Zoran Malinovski’s online exhibition called What’s Happening

Maureen Blamey is a seniors outreach social worker with the geriatrics team. (Colleen Flanagan/The News)
New geriatrics team to help seniors in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows

The Seniors Service Team was formed to improve the quality of life for pre-frail and frail, medically complex seniors

Baillie House long-term care is located at Ridge Meadows Hospital. (Google Maps)
Five people test positive for COVID-19 at Maple Ridge’s Baillie House

Long-term care facility is one month removed from its last outbreak

Maple Ridge - Pitt Meadows MLA Lisa Beare (Special to The News)
Maple Ridge – Pitt Meadows MLA Beare performs one of first official acts in new office

Order permitting use of additional communication tools in public sector during pandemic extended

Pitt Meadows Mayor Bill Dingwall. (Neil Corbett/THE NEWS)
Pitt Meadows city hall and residents oppose new CP Rail operation

Company announces plans for CP Logistics Park: Vancouver

Motorists wait to enter a Fraser Health COVID-19 testing facility, in Surrey, B.C., on Monday, Nov. 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Another 694 diagnosed with COVID-19 in B.C. Thursday

Three more health care outbreaks, 12 deaths

Cops converge in a Marshall Road parking lot on Thursday afternoon following a reported police incident. (Ben Lypka/Abbotsford News)
Federal offender escapes, gets shot at and is taken back into custody in Abbotsford

Several branches of law enforcement find escapee a short distance from where he fled

A demonstrator wears representations of sea lice outside the Fisheries and Oceans Canada offices in downtown Vancouver Sept. 24, demanding more action on the Cohen Commission recommendations to protect wild Fraser River sockeye. (Quinn Bender photo)
First Nations renew call to revoke salmon farm licences

Leadership council implores use of precautionary principle in Discovery Islands

Ten-month-old Aidan Deschamps poses for a photo with his parents Amanda Sully and Adam Deschamps in this undated handout photo. Ten-month-old Aidan Deschamps was the first baby in Canada to be diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy through Ontario’s newborn screening program. The test was added to the program six days before he was born. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Children’s Hospital Eastern Ontario *MANDATORY CREDIT*
First newborn tested for spinal muscular atrophy in Canada hits new milestones

‘If Aidan had been born any earlier or anywhere else our story would be quite different’

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

(Pixabay)
Canadians’ mental health has deteriorated with the second wave, study finds

Increased substance use one of the ways people are coping

Lefeuvre Road, near Myrtle Avenue, was blocked to traffic on Thursday (Dec. 3) after an abandoned pickup truck was found on fire. Police are investigating to determine if there are any links to a killing an hour earlier in Surrey. (Shane MacKichan photo)
Torched truck found in Abbotsford an hour after killing in Surrey

Police still investigating to determine if incidents are linked

Surrey Pretrial centre in Newton. (Photo: Tom Zytaruk)
Surrey Pretrial hit with human rights complaint over mattress

The inmate who lodged the complaint said he needed a second mattress to help him manage his arthritis

Most Read