VANCOUVER -- The Vancouver park board is bringing back staff who were working as recreation programmers to patrol parks and beaches to remind people to maintain physical distance.

The new program comes after park rangers handed out a total of 1,364 warnings to parkgoers between March 20 and April 2.

B.C.’s public health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, has told people to stay home as much as possible to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but has said it’s fine to go for short walks outside. In response, many city dwellers went to parks to walk and exercise.

But that led to crowding at some of Metro Vancouver’s most popular parks, and new warnings from health officials. In response, the Vancouver park board closed parking lots for several parks, put up signs asking people to stay two metres apart from each other, and removed logs from beaches.

Metro Vancouver municipalities have also closed playgrounds, as well as playing courts and fields.

City-run community centres, pools and gyms are also closed.

Park rangers were finding that people who were congregating too closely together were doing so out of ignorance or forgetfulness, said Malcolm Bromley, general manager of the park board. He said rangers were finding that people quickly complied after being reminded to stay at least two metres, or six feet, apart.

Since park rangers have other duties to attend to, the park board decided to create a new role for employees who had been working as recreation programmers. The new team will patrol parks, beaches and the seawall. The Park Board Champions will play an educational role rather than enforcement, Bromley said.

Initially, 25 Champions will be deployed to Stanley Park, English Bay, Sunset Beach and Kitsilano Park, but if the program is successful the park board may add more employees.

Toronto is now fining people who fail to practice physical distancing. But Bromley said Vancouver currently doesn’t have the authority to use more punitive measures like fines because there is no provincial order or city bylaw around physical distancing. 

"At this stage, some cities that have a different regulatory authority have decided to move on to the fining stage. I don't think we're at that stage now," Bromley said.

"There's only one order, to be clear, from the province around restaurants. So people can be fined if they don't adhere to the restaurant order, but at this stage there's no order that we would follow to try to fine people here on the beaches."

But, Bromley said, if people continue to congregate closely together, the park board will look at closing more areas.

The Vancouver park board is asking people to do the following when planning to visit a park:

• always maintain a safe physical distance of a least two metres;

• use parks/beaches for a short break to exercise, not to socialize;

• visit during less busy times (mornings, late evenings, or when it’s cloudy/damp outside);

• access neighbourhood or community parks and do not drive to destination parks/beaches;

• keep dogs on leash when walking, unless using an official off-leash park; 

• refrain from touching shared surfaces and be vigilant about hand-washing; and

• stay home if you’re sick, especially if feeling cold or flu-like symptoms 


An earlier version of this story incorrectly said the city employees who are now working on the Park Board Champions team had been previously laid off.