People in Vancouver could be fined up to $1,000 if they fail to comply with social distancing rules

Not following emergency orders in Vancouver during the COVID-19 outbreak can now come with a fine. 

At a virtual council meeting Monday morning, council unanimously passed a motion allowing the city to fine businesses up to $50,000 and individuals up to $1,000 if they don't follow new rules passed during the city's state of emergency. 

The city says the goal is to continue to enforce new orders — including a ban on all dine-in service at restaurants — through an informational campaign, but the ability to fine businesses and individuals will be used if necessary.

"When those new orders come in … we want to have the tools to have a little bit of the stick, in addition to the education," said City Manager Sadhu Johnston.  

"A fine, or prosecution, is a tool we might need to get businesses to comply."

People could be fined if they fail to practice social distancing in parks and other public places, but no such orders have been issued yet, and it would not effect people on the street or in their homes. 

It comes after widespread instances over the weekend of people ignoring requests to avoid large public gathering in Vancouver beaches and parks, prompting a frustrated outcry by Mayor Kennedy Stewart on Sunday night.

"This isn't a game. People are dying," he said.

"The time of asking nicely is coming to an end."

Ben Nelms/CBC

How to enforce?

The city had around six bylaw officers dedicated to going to businesses over the weekend to ensure the new rules fwere being followed, and Johnston said of the approximately 1,500 that were visited, only about 15 were not in compliance.

"We can ramp up the number of people that are doing this," he said. "Ten, 20, 30, 40 people if we need to."

But city staff that when it came to the hypothetical of issuing fines to individuals, tickets would be issued by the Vancouver Police Department, who would enforce it in the same way as a speeding ticket. 

"We don't at this point, intend to be going to groups of people in parks and ordering tickets," said Johnston.

"Obviously, if the situation continues, that will be something we revisit … but it's really only police officers that can do that kind of enforcement, to produce ID and have the tools and skills to put on that kind of enforcement." 

DTES concerns

All councillors supported the measures, but there were a number of questions around how education and punishment would be balanced, along with how the city would continue to protect residents in the Downtown Eastside

While there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 among the city's homeless population — which stands at around 2,200 people — there have been concerns about a lack of social distancing, which B.C.'s chief medical officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, admitted was a "challenging situation."

"If somebody gets sick, is there just going to be a mass quarantine of those who live there?" asked Coun. Jean Swanson, who worried the new bylaws could penalize people who didn't have the means to self-isolate. 

City staff said they've already found hotel space to help people who need to be in isolation but lack clean shelter, and a task force would continue to work on longer-term solutions.  

"I know there's a lot of fear and nervousness out there," said Stewart. 

"There's no intention on our part to do some sort of mass quarantine."

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