Sunshine Coasters who want to report violations of COVID-19 protocols should direct complaints about public health orders to local government bylaw officers, while the RCMP handles violations of the federal Quarantine Act, says the province.
Since March 31, bylaw officers have the power to monitor, issue warnings and give information and advice about public health orders.
Public health orders include: restrictions on gatherings of more than 50 people, the requirement that hair salons, tattoo parlours and other personal establishments close, the requirement of bars and nightclubs to close and the requirement that farmers’ markets allow food vendors only to operate.
In responding to complaints, bylaw officers are not allowed to detain or fine people, or issue tickets.
Instead, they have been tasked with promoting public education and voluntary compliance and with finding a “balanced approach to maintain public trust to ensure essential services can operate while following public health orders,” according to a guiding document from the province.
The new powers were granted in an order by Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth and apply to bylaw enforcement officers as well as Cannabis Control and Licencing Act, Liquor Control and Licencing Act and the Gaming Control Act compliance officers.
Travellers returning to B.C. from outside of Canada must adhere to both the federal Quarantine Act and a provincial public health order, both of which require travellers to self-isolate for 14 days, with certain exceptions for essential service workers.
As of April 9, those arriving in B.C. from outside Canada are also legally required to provide a self-isolation plan, including essential service workers.
Since self-isolation after international travel is required by a federal law, people wanting to report an infraction should call the RCMP. According to the province’s COVID-19 Joint Information Centre, “The federal government is leading enforcement for the requirement to self-isolate upon return to Canada for 14 days, under authority of the Quarantine Act.”
While the province is strongly encouraging people to practise physical distancing, there is no public health order requiring people who are not part of the same household to keep a distance of two metres between each other. The only exception is inside food premises, where specific physical distancing rules apply under a public health order regulating premises that serve food and alcohol.
Similarly, there is no public health order prohibiting gatherings of fewer than 50 people.
Vancouver Coastal Health does play a role in enforcing physical distancing in institutional settings such as residential care facilities, hospice care and community living.
So far on the Sunshine Coast, RCMP and bylaw enforcement officers have been receiving a range of complaints related to public health measures and advice.
In Gibsons, there has been “a large increase in general complaints,” bylaw enforcement officer Sue Booth told Coast Reporter.
Since March 27, she has received 10 calls about people returning from out of country and allegedly not self-isolating, outdoor burning and businesses not assisting with social distancing, she said.
“Any violations are being reported back to the health department,” said Booth.
District of Sechelt communications manager Julie Rogers said the district has been supporting VCH with “self-quarantine concerns, community self-distancing issues and supporting the education of various businesses and helping support the best practices in these businesses.”
She said the district’s two officers have attended parks and businesses “to provide information about these issues. They have found people to be receptive to the information and mostly compliant.”
The Sunshine Coast Regional District’s (SCRD) bylaw department has responded to five complaints so far, “regarding individuals who have returned from travelling and who have been reported as not self-isolating,” said Matt Treit, manager of protective services.
The SCRD will also be using staff to “be out in public providing information about physical distancing. We have yet to determine when this will commence,” he said.
On the Sunshine Coast it appears the RCMP has been bearing the brunt of calls about physical distancing – which aren’t enforceable.
Sunshine Coast RCMP Staff Sgt. Poppy Hallam told Coast Reporter the detachment “receives calls daily about persons not socially distancing,” in addition to complaints about people not self-isolating after travel or businesses not following public health orders. Some of those complaints are received anonymously through Crime Stoppers, she said.
The RCMP is also working closely with VCH and local bylaw officers, but so far they have not been asked by the health authority to take enforcement action. “At this time our role is still educational and of assistance as and when needed,” she said.
Officers haven’t issued any penalties for public health order offences and have not been asked to assist with violations under the Quarantine Act.
Here is a link to all Public Health Orders, notices and guidance: http://www.gov.bc.ca/PHOguidance