Lawyers say B.C.'s COVID-19 travel roadblocks might discriminate, will be challenged in court
VANCOUVER -- Details of B.C.’s new plans to restrict travel within the province won’t be announced until Friday, but lawyers are already predicting that it will spell trouble.
The new order will give police the power to conduct COVID-19 road blocks aimed at curbing travel between health regions, and civil rights and criminal lawyers are saying that aspects of it are likely to be challenged in court.
“Currently police do not have the legal authority to ask questions like ‘Where are you going, where are you coming from, for what purpose,’” said lawyer Hasha Walia, the executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.
The new plan for travel check-points is “significantly different” than the anti-drinking and driving campaigns that politicians have compared it to, Walia said.
Criminal lawyer Kyla Lee agrees.
“It’s going to be interesting to see how the government will compel people to answer questions at a roadblock,” she said.
“I don’t view this as very effective at all, because we are working on the honour system. So (if) somebody says ‘I’m travelling for work,’ do you have to prove that with additional documentation?,” she asked.
“Probably not,” she said.
Lee expects she will hear from British Columbians who are issued fines for crossing health region boundaries.
“Everybody who is getting a ticket for this I think will seriously consider fighting it, and I think a lot of people will.”
A political science professor at the University of the Fraser Valley also agrees that tickets issued under the new initiative will be met with court challenges.
“I think they are inviting court challenges about the constitutionality of it,” Hamish Telford said.
“It quite clearly restricts people’s mobility rights,” he added.
Telford is also concerned some motorists could face greater scrutiny.
“Who in fact are they pulling over? Is it truly random as the premier says, or is there some pattern to the way people are being pulled over? Is it young people, is it people of colour that are getting pulled over more frequently?” Telford said.
Walia shares that concern.
“We know one of the ways that systemic racism in policing plays out is that racialized people, especially Black and Indigenous youth, are presumed to be guilty,” she said.
“If there is a car of youth that says ‘We are going to work,’ will they be taken at face value or will they be asked a series of questions that might be different for them because they are racialized?”
The province insists it’s not targeting people of colour or daily commuters, but is instead looking to punish people travelling across health regions for recreation, and has suggested road blocks may be set up on Highway 1 leaving Metro Vancouver and at BC Ferries’ terminals.
“It’s not clear to me how they envision this working, are they going to be stopping only cars with kayaks on the roof? Or pulling a camper trailer?” asked Telford.
“Maybe we will get some details on Friday,” he said.