Vancouver is now in a state of emergency
VANCOUVER -- A day after Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart suggested the motion, council has voted unanimously to declare a state of emergency.
During a virtual special meeting, city councillors approved Stewart's coronavirus-related request, which was first made public Wednesday.
The motion was passed unanimously. Now the city will discuss the matter with the province to determine how the two emergency declarations will work together.
The meeting began at 10 a.m. Thursday, but councillors discussed the idea for more than two hours before making a decision.
The mayor said previously he was confident it would be approved.
Stewart called in to CTV Morning Live on Thursday, ahead of the vote, and said the gathering would be the government's first virtual council meeting. Most called in to the meeting, rather than attending at city hall.
The mayor made his suggestion public the day before the meeting, saying at a news conference that now is the time.
"These are extraordinary times, and we all need to take fast and extraordinary action," Stewart said, in reference to the COVID-19 pandemic.
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Implementing a state of emergency gives the city more authority in certain situations, including the ability to force restaurants defying the advice of public officials to close.
"Part of these powers will enable us to close all public-serving businesses to assembly service, and remain open only to provide takeout delivery," he said.
The state of emergency will not have a designated time limit. This is to prevent the need for possible extensions every time the limit is reached.
However, councillors will have the option to call an emergency meeting at any time and call the declaration off.
The mayor said he'd been told by police that several bars and restaurants stayed open, and had patrons inside, on St. Patrick's day, despite warnings against gatherings of more than 50 people.
He said a state of emergency also gives emergency management teams and first responders more flexibility to deploy resources, and may also be used to address the issue of panic buying if the declaration goes forward.
Why does Vancouver need its own declaration?
A state of emergency was announced province-wide Wednesday over coronavirus outbreak, with Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth saying the declaration would help B.C.'s health ministry with its "swift, powerful response."
So why would some cities, including Vancouver, consider imposing their own?
Stewart said Vancouver has unique circumstances, one of those being a large, vulnerable population.
On Wednesday, he outlined measures meant to protect the city's large homeless population, including the installation of more handwashing stations, and a task force told to identify and find suitable, isolated housing solutions for the most vulnerable among that group.
Speaking to council, the city's manager said the state of emergency will also enable the city's first responders to be the first priority when it comes to obtaining equipment and supplies.
He said the state of emergency won't have much of an impact on the community as a whole, but gives the city the tools to implement specific instructions coming out of the emergency operations centre.
It would give those first responders and other city officials the ability to take or use land and facilities within the community when needed, including community centres, hotels and meeting places, temporarily. Those spaces could be used for shelter or other purposes.
The fire chief said teams including his want to be faster and more nimble, and this would give emergency workers the ability to respond quickly as the situation changes.
The measure, as described by Chief Darrell Reid, will serve the public by "not only keeping Vancouver safer but keeping...first responders working in Vancouver safer."
He said it will also give them the ability to take more proactive steps with being able to assist with social distancing.
It does not include any shelter-in-place or rationing powers, but would give the city the ability to restrict, limit or prohibit the occupancy of some premises. For example, if one area of the city is subject to an outbreak, the city could force businesses to close.
Panic buying and housing
Another key point addressed in the mayor's decision that the city should enforce its own state of emergency was to allow for the government to address panic buying, which he described as "unacceptable."
He said he'd spoken to store owners and the issue is not a lack of product, but members of the public "hoarding" more than they need.
On CTV News Thursday, he said the city is now getting daily updates on the supply chain, and has asked for a "green, yellow, red" warning system, and said things are currently still at "green," meaning no problems with supply.
He said it takes stores a while to replenish, which makes people feel that there's a shortage, and worry more than they should.
"If residents do not immediately change their behaviour and begin acting with their fellow Vancouverites in mind, I will work with local retailers and I will take action."
It was not immediately clear what that action would entail. Stewart said the province's state of emergency allows it to intervene, so the two levels of government are now trying to figure out "who does what."
When asked whether the state of emergency would give the city the power to bar evictions, the city's legal department said currently the issue is dealt with on the provincial level. However, he said it's something municipal officials are looking in to.
This is a developing news story. Check back for updates.
With files from CTV News Vancouver's Alissa Thibault at city hall