Why no one in B.C. will be penalized for violating safe-distancing recommendations - InfoNews

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Why no one in B.C. will be penalized for violating safe-distancing recommendations

April 03, 2020 - 2:00 PM

Every day health officials in B.C. and around the world are urging people to keep apart in order to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But, in many cases in B.C. at least, they're not enforceable.

The province has enlisted local bylaw officers to enforce orders to prevent the spread of COVID-19. But that only applies to formal orders, not recommendations like with physical distancing.

A 14-page document called “Compliance and Enforcement Guidance about Public Health Orders with respect to Physical Distancing,” recently posted online points out quite emphatically that self-distancing is not enforceable.

“There are no public health Orders addressed to the general public requiring them to maintain physical distancing outside their own homes, with the exception of inside food premises,” the document states, highlighting the word no in bold face. “The public has been provided with strong recommendations and guidance in this regard.”

It goes on to list some actions bylaw officers can take.

“In general C&EOs (compliance and enforcement officials, which includes bylaw officers) are not expected to monitor individual behaviour or have a role when it comes to individuals and self-isolation measures.”

The document goes on to, essentially, say it’s a waste of time to call a bylaw officer with a complaint about people not maintaining safe distancing.

If they receive a complaint, it suggests, the officer could say something like “Thank you for notifying us of your concerns. It is our strong expectation that people who are required to self-isolate will do so.”

It then provides contact information for people who may have symptoms or appear to be sick.

“If the person you are calling about appears well do not engage or interact with that person,” it continues. “We appreciate you letting us know about your concerns.”

When it comes to gatherings of more than 50 people or businesses that are operating after being ordered closed, the bylaw officers are told to educate those involved. As these are orders, they can call in health officers to enforce them.

Bylaw officers cannot detain anyone or issue tickets. Health officers have to do that. Fines of more than $25,000 can be levied and violators may be jailed.

While safe distancing is highly recommended by Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonny Henry in her daily COVID-19 updates, she has not issued a formal order to make people comply.

Strong public buy-in to the practice, along with some public shaming of those who don’t do it, seems to have had a strong impact on the spread of the virus as numbers of new cases and hospitalizations are climbing at a much slower rate in B.C. than in countries like Italy and Spain.

“I believe the fact that we put in place stringent restrictions quite early, as we started to see the number of cases in our community increasing, that this is our flattening of our curve,” Henry said in her update yesterday, April 2. “We are hopeful that will continue but we can’t take our foot off the pedal again.”

She strongly urged people to stay at two metres apart and to only go outside for work or essential shopping.

The guidance document can be viewed here.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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