VANCOUVER -- B.C. Premier John Horgan says the province has had its own challenges with racism and is encouraging people who choose to protest to do so safely, as the COVID-19 pandemic is still ongoing.

"Like you, I'm horrified to see what happened to George Floyd, I'm horrified when I see the response in major U.S. cities, and what I do know is that although we do our level best to address racism here in British Columbia, it exists here as well," he said Wednesday.

Horgan said the province strives to make sure law enforcement treats everyone equally but acknowledged there have been issues in B.C.

"What we do in those situations is try and get better," he said. "We can always improve on what we do, whether it be giving police better tools to better understand how to interact with people from different backgrounds."

For those who choose to attend protests, the premier encouraged them to abide by health and safety guidelines put out by provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, such as ensuring there is physical distancing at protests and wearing a mask, if possible.

"If you're going to be chanting, by all means, make sure you're covering yourself up so you're not potentially affecting other people," he said.

Wednesday's briefing from the premier took place outside the legislature in the Rose Garden so, as Horgan put it, they could "have (their) recess with a little bit of sunshine."

Horgan says he's hopeful that any demonstrations supporting Black Lives Matter or other anti-racism initiatives will be peaceful and "will be focused on the issue at hand.”

"If there are those who try and assert themselves within what will be, by and large – and has been, by and large – peaceful protests, of course, that's where we need to take action," he said.

"I can say to British Columbians, I have every expectation, as they do, that if we want to have our voices heard, we need to do it in a peaceful manner, which has been a long-standing tradition in British Columbia," he said.

While Sunday's anti-racism protest drew thousands of demonstrators to the Vancouver Art Gallery, Horgan said that there's a "big difference" between crowds of that nature and, for example, a wedding. The province has moved into Phase 2 of its reopening plan, but the restriction on mass gatherings of more than 50 people is technically still in place.

"I think we all get out of this stronger than we did coming in," he said. "But I do understand the motivation and the desire for people to have their voices heard at this most extraordinary time our world history."

Horgan's popularity has surged during the pandemic, as health care and COVID-19 have been top-of-mind for B.C. residents, a recent poll conducted by Research Co. suggested

That survey indicated Horgan's approval rating is at 73 per cent, and that part of that rating is due to Horgan and the NDP's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in B.C.

In his last weekly briefing, Horgan again extended B.C.'s state of emergency. That extension made it the longest period B.C. would be in a state of emergency, and the premier said there was "no likely end in sight." 

With files from CTV News Vancouver's Alyse Kotyk 

Watch an American Sign Language translation of the news conference on the provincial government's YouTube page.