After over 600 price-gouging complaints, B.C. introduces $2,000 fine during COVID-19 pandemic
VANCOUVER -- B.C.'s solicitor general says the province will fine people $2,000 if they are found to be selling items like masks at inflated prices, or are found to be illegally selling other essential goods during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mike Farnworth announced the new measure Sunday, saying he'd been made aware of multiple complaints to Consumer Protection B.C.
"For example, an elderly, immunocompromised consumer paying 10 times the regular price for some N-95 masks, or business owners looking to purchase personal protective equipment for their workforces having to pay grossly inflated prices," he said.
With demand for protective equipment like masks soaring around the world, Farnworth was asked how enforcing agencies will determine whether a seller is simply passing on a price increase from increased demand, or is actually price-gouging.
He said Consumer Protection B.C. would be monitoring those factors along with the Retail Council of British Columbia.
"We're in regular contact with our with our supply chains and understanding what is taking place in the market," he said.
"And again, what it comes down to is some common sense and understanding that when you see a mask that normally sells for, you know, $5 in other stores is being sold for $50, or you see that it's taking place online, prices that are significantly out of line for what is being charged in other locations."
Farnworth added there is an element of "you know what then you see it" when it comes to determining whether price-gouging is going on.
A spokesperson for Consumer Protection BC told CTV News in an email they’ve had close to 1,500 complaints for price-gouging and, “of that, 617 are around PPE" (personal protective equipment like masks, face shields and gloves).
Meanwhile as of April 16, the City of Vancouver had issued 5,413 warnings about physical distancing at parks and beaches.
But Farnworth stopped short of introducing measures to enforce physical-distancing recommendations, such as a fine. He said that decision was up to B.C.'s provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry.
Staying two metres away from other people who are not members of your own household is a key recommendation to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, and municipalities have had to take steps to prevent people from crowding into parks or beaches.
B.C. has had success in bending the curve of new cases, in large part because residents have been following those recommendations -- but Henry has continued to warn that cases could start to rise again if British Columbians stop physical distancing.
"I think that people are observing the social distancing measures. (There are) always those who think that it doesn't apply to them -- many local governments have staff out reminding people," Farnworth said.
"We will continue to do that. And if the provincial health officer thinks that there needs to be additional measures, then obviously we would ensure that those are implemented."
But some residents CTV News spoke to at English bay Sunday afternoon are in favour of fines, tired of seeing busy parks and beaches.
“I think after four weeks, even six weeks now, everybody should know what is the situation and should listen,” said Kamila Wasilewski. She suggested a $1,000 fine, similar to what is in place in other provinces.
“I think we should start ticketing people just so they would actually listen,” said Diane Belgado.
“Because right now no one seems to be believing that it’s actually a requirement, that it’s mandatory that we do the social distancing.”