Vancouver councillor says more resources needed to enforce new COVID-19 fines

A Vancouver city councillor says she’s concerned compliance officers won’t have the necessary resources to effectively make use of new COVID-19 enforcement powers.

On Friday, Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth granted new authority to police, liquor, gaming, and cannabis inspectors and conservation officers to issue fines to people who break provincial health orders.

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$2,000 fines to be issued to enforce B.C. COVID-19 public health rules

People who organize events of more than 50 people can be fined $2,000, while those who actively promote such events or fail to leave them when asked can be fined $200.

But Vancouver police are already stretched thin, said Coun. Melissa de Genova, adding the city only has 20 inspection officers on staff who are already busy.

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“They have a number of portfolios already,” she said.

“That includes business licences, development, that includes liquor, cannabis, short term rentals. We’re talking empty homes taxes.”

Despite all the warnings, unsafe gatherings and parties continue in B.C.

Despite all the warnings, unsafe gatherings and parties continue in B.C.

De Genova said the province should be reassigning staff, such as gaming inspectors who have more time while casinos are closed, to specifically handle the complaints.

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“I’m interested to know what kind of resources the province are putting toward this. How many actual  people will be there going out and and enforcing these orders?” she asked.

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“Will those people actively only be doing in physical distancing, enforcement of gatherings over 50 people, or will they be doing this off the side of their desk and on top of their other portfolios?”

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Video shows large street party in Vancouver amid COVID-19

Video shows large street party in Vancouver amid COVID-19

A spokesperson for Emergency Management BC said the province’s approach was meant to empower provincial compliance officers acting in their own communities.

However, it said that that while such officers now have the powers to issue fines, provincial staff are not currently being redeployed.

Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart applauded the new enforcement powers on Friday.

The city has already created a new team to triage complaint calls, which the public is directed to report though 311, the city’s website or the VanConnect app, he said.

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Vancouver police asked the public to be patient with the process.

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Police often see as many as 100 calls on hold at a time during busy weekend periods, and will always prioritize violent crime and life-safety calls, said spokesperson Const. Tania Visintin

“This is a big departure from our previous enforcement approach, which was concentrating on the education of social distancing,” she said.

“We will do our best to work with the City of Vancouver to ensure there is an integrated enforcement approach and prioritize our response.”

Visintin also stressed that under no circumstances should anyone call 911 to make a COVID-19 complaint.

New fines

Under the new rules, police and other compliance officers will have the power to issue fines to the following people.

$2,000 fines for owners, operators or organizers for:

  • Hosting a private party or public event in excess of 50 people
  • Failing to provide appropriate hand sanitation and washroom facilities
  • Failing to provide sufficient space in the venue for physical distancing
  • Failing to obtain a list of names and contacts at large event
  • Having more than five guests gathered in a vacation accommodation

$200 fines for individuals who:

  • Actively encourage others to attend gatherings or events that do not comply with health orders
  • Refuse to leave or disperse when directed to do so by enforcement officers
  • Refuse to comply with requirements for a restaurant, bar or other licensed establishment
  • Respond with abusive behaviour towards employees

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