Few tickets expected at B.C.'s non-essential travel roadblocks, lawyer says
VANCOUVER -- RCMP have now begun stopping vehicles at a roadblock on Highway 3 in Manning Park as they look for people breaking the provincial ban on non-essential travel between health regions.
More than 15 officers are assisting at the checkpoint, one of four that have been set up at different locations in the province this weekend.
By Thursday evening, there hadn't been much traffic heading through the area.
“If an officer does decide a person is travelling for non-essential reasons, they will be asked to turn around,” said Staff Sgt. Janelle Shoihet of B.C. RCMP Communication Services.
“The goal here is not to be putting out fines. Really, the goal is to stay local.”
But Shoihet said if someone were to refuse to turn around, "they could be served with an emergency program act fine of up to $575.”
A couple hours into the roadblock, no one had been turned around.
The Manning Park roadblock is stopping drivers heading out of the Lower Mainland, but could be changed to catch drivers going in the other direction.
Shoihet says roadblocks will rotate through four different Lower Mainland locations and there could be more than one roadblock operating at any given time.
A local criminal defence lawyer says she expects few tickets will be handed out at the roadblocks aimed at stopping non-essential travel and the spread of COVID-19.
The province announced a ban on travel for leisure within the province more than two weeks ago, but enforcement on B.C. highways hasn’t been implemented until now.
“At the road check locations police officers will be asking for identification from drivers, documentation regarding the driver’s name and address, and the purpose for the driver’s travel,” said Staff Sgt. Janelle Shoihet, of B.C. RCMP, in a news release.
The checkpoints are being stationed in areas that have a high volume of people travelling for leisure.
- Here's where the B.C. RCMP will be performing COVID-19 checks this weekend
- Is your reason for travel considered essential? Here's a list from the province
Mounties say drivers should expect traffic delays near the checkpoints, as travel will be bottlenecked.
“Signage will be in place informing travellers of upcoming road check locations and providing safe U-turn routes should motorists determine that their travel is not essential and wish to avoid the road check,” said Shoihet.
If an officer determines that a person is travelling for non-essential reasons they will be directed to turn around. Those who refuse to comply could face up to a $575 fine.
Commercial vehicles will not be subject to road checks.
Criminal defence lawyer Kyla Lee describes the checks as “questionably legal.”
“I expect that the court would find that they were unconstitutional, but that it was justified to violate the constitution and create these roadblocks to prevent the spread and the transmission of COVID-19 in the province,” Lee told CTV News.
However, she believes few tickets will actually be given out.
“Police don't have that much power as far as inquiring to the purpose of the travel and it's easy for anybody to just say, ‘Oh, I'm travelling for essential reasons,’ or just say (their travel is for) work, and leave it at that,” she said.
She believes the ban acts as more of a deterrent.
“From the existence of roadblocks and this has been studied again in the alcohol driving context, in cases where people believe that they're going to be caught, or where they have the perception that they could be caught, they are less likely to engage in risky behaviour,” she explained.
Lee says it’s important that people know their rights when passing through the checkpoints.
“The police do not have the power to compel the passengers to engage with them, to ask the driver to exit the vehicle, to provide documentation to prove the purpose of the travel, or to search the vehicle or anything like that.”
She also says it’s OK to be brief in with answers when talking to officers.
“I would limit it to one word, 'essential purposes' or 'work,' or just a one-word answer. You do not have to provide any other information to police.”
While the restrictions are in place, B.C. has been divided into three regions. Residents of B.C. are asked to limit their travel between the regions, which are the Lower Mainland/Fraser Valley, Vancouver Island and Northern/Interior.
The restrictions will remain in effect until at least the end of the May long weekend.