With the holiday season under way, the province's premier and solicitor general are warning that COVID-19 enforcement is stepping up to make sure British Columbians are following public health orders, and the government is considering even bigger fines.
In a news release Wednesday, B.C.'s public safety ministry said some industries are being ask to increase their COVID-19 enforcement.
"Our police departments have been working hard to educate the public and issue violation tickets when necessary," said Mike Farnworth, minister of public safety and solicitor general, in the release.
He's asking conservation officers, community safety units, liquor and cannabis inspectors and gaming investigators to fine those they see violating public health orders while they're out on the job as he mulls the idea of bigger fines.
"When we put the fine in place, we looked at what was possible given it was an administrative penalty because it does not occur under the Offence Act, which would require a legislative change," Farnworth later told reporters at the legislature. "What we’re looking at is are there ways we can increase those things? That’s something I think many people, including myself, would like to see happen.”
“Having said that, though, one: repeat offence tickets can be given and, in fact, police have done that. Second: as we’ve seen in the case of those three churches, police have recommended charges and that’s gone to the prosecutorial service.”
Since COVID-19 fines were introduced on Aug. 21, 290 violation tickets have been issued. Of those, 45 were $2,300 tickets to event organizers breaking health orders. Another 21 were issued for violations against the food and liquor premises order. Finally, 224 $230 tickets have been handed to individuals refusing to comply with direction from law enforcement.
As well, 72 tickets totalling $78,500 have been issued to people breaking the Quarantine Act during the pandemic.
To ensure tickets are paid, Farnworth has also asked ICBC, which collects fines for the government, to send those individuals who are deemed to be guilty to collections immediately. Typically, payment reminders are sent over the course of a year before the person is forwarded to collections. Now, however, those with unpaid COVID-19 fines will be sent to collection after the 30-day payment or dispute period ends.
WorkSafeBC is also being tasked with increasing in-person inspections, especially in industries where COVID-19 is spreading.
"While I’m pleased to report that vaccinations in B.C. have begun, which is a reason to celebrate, we need to continue our efforts in the months ahead to protect our province’s most vulnerable," said Premier John Horgan in a news release.
"The provincial health officer’s directions and the solicitor general’s orders are clear. Right now, we all need to mask up in indoor public spaces and not gather with anyone outside our household, and today’s expanded enforcement measures will help us change behaviours and bend the curve of infections back down."
Farnworth emphasized that while he thinks there are only a handful of rule-breakers compared to the overall population, they can do harm to others. He particularly focussed on the church leaders continuing to hold services.
"I think it's extremely unfortunate that they seem to feel the health orders that are there to protect everybody, that they are somehow above that," he said. "I respect the role of faith in people's lives. Faith will help them get through this pandemic. But faith alone will not protect you from this virus, and if they think somehow their rights are more important than people's health, they are wrong. The result is police are doing their jobs, the charges have been forwarded to the prosecutorial service and we'll see what happens from there."