Only B.C. drivers, not passengers, to be asked about non-essential travel: minister

·3 min read

VICTORIA — British Columbia's solicitor general says police conducting checks will only ask drivers and not their passengers whether they're travelling for non-essential reasons as part of an enforcement plan aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19.

Mike Farnworth said Friday that passengers will not be questioned for constitutional reasons based on legal advice, so the stops at high-traffic corridors and two ferry terminals don't stray into potential investigations.

Farnworth said he has met with representatives of racialized groups about their concerns that those who are Black, Indigenous and people of colour could be targeted if the order gave police sweeping powers but he believes improvements have been made on how the process will work.

"To be clear, police are not authorized to record personal information unless an enforcement action is taken. This means that police will only record information if a driver is in violation of the order. While these restrictions are in place, we will continue to listen to feedback to make sure we get it right."

Drivers may be asked for their name, address, licence and secondary documentation confirming their address if they have moved, Farnworth said.

Travel is limited to three regions, which are areas covered by the Fraser and Vancouver Coastal health authorities; the northern and Interior health authorities; and Vancouver Island.

Essential reasons for travel include visits to long-term care and assisted-living facilities as well as for health care and taking someone to a medical appointment, moving and going to work.

Signs will warn drivers a few kilometres ahead of checkpoints and anyone who is deemed to be travelling outside their region for non-essential purposes will be turned around, Farnworth said.

Anyone who fails to comply with requirements at a road check or the direction of a police officer may be fined $230 and violation of the travel order would net a $575 ticket, he said.

However, while the five-week order covers broad areas, Farnworth said people should stay in their local communities until May 25, when an estimated 60 per cent of B.C. residents are expected to have at least one dose of a vaccine, up from the current 38 per cent.

He noted the mayor of Whistler, where the variant first identified in Brazil has been linked to hundreds of COVID-19 cases, has asked people not to visit the resort community.

Farnworth also said operators of rental properties through online platforms should issue full refunds to people cancelling bookings in keeping with the travel order instead of aiming for "short-term greed" at the expense of their reputation.

The B.C. Hotel Association has done a "remarkable job" in encouraging members to cancel reservations, he said.

Police departments in Delta and West Vancouver will be doing road checks at ferry terminals in those communities while the RCMP will be conducting them elsewhere in the province.

The National Police Federation criticized the order last week, saying it lacked clarity and its RCMP members could be exposed to pushback from the public.

On Friday, union president Brian Sauvé said he's pleased the government's initial focus on enforcement is now based on informing people and encouraging them not to travel between regions.

"We will continue to work with the RCMP on its implementation and to addressing member concerns," Sauvé said in a statement.

— By Camille Bains in Vancouver

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 30, 2021.

The Canadian Press