British Columbia’s Solicitor General Mike Farnworth invoked extraordinary emergency powers Thursday to unify provincial response efforts to fight COVID-19.
“Dr. Henry’s orders are not suggestions. They are the law. To that end, we will be enabling municipal bylaw officers to be redeployed to help ensure compliance with the provincial health officer’s orders. Orders which could carry fines, or even jail time,” Farnworth said.
A number of the Vancouver Island municipalities have just one bylaw enforcement officer. Their main enforcement tool is ticketing,, with a maximum possible fine of $1,000.
But they now have sweeping powers to crack down on violations of the orders from Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry: physical distancing, only essential businesses remain open and a ban on gatherings of more than 50.
Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins, said the messaging is getting out in her community.
“I don’t think that we have major problems. But everybody needs to remember the rules. And more people are encouraging people to think that way is not going to be a bad thing,” Desjardins said.
But some believe the measures announced today go too far, including Vancouver criminal defence lawer Sarah Leamon.
“I think it is problematic to have the possibility of putting people in jail during the time of a pandemic,” Leamon said.
But Saanich Mayor Fred Haynes said while for the most part residents are adhering to the new normal, he still believes the orders issued today are necessary.
“We don’t want to have to assign our police and bylaw officers and go out and instruct this. The next step will be financial fines. Let’s avoid that,” Haynes said.
With a current roster of four bylaw enforcement officers on staff, Haynes says Saanich may look into hiring more in the future to ensure the safety of residents.