Law enforcement can now issue violation tickets of up to $2,000 for owners and organizers of venues and events that break COVID-19 public health orders on gatherings and events, B.C.’s public safety minister announced Friday.
Mike Farnworth gave the update Friday, saying a small group of “selfish people” have been “putting our most vulnerable at risk” during the pandemic.
“Now more than ever, this is a time to be selfless, it is a time to tell friends and family that breaking the rules will hurt us all,” Farnworth said.
“We can’t let the bad decisions made by a few erode the progress we’ve made.”
Farnworth says the enforcement will target anyone hosting events or gatherings that are larger than 50 people, not keeping a list and contact information of people who attend an event or anyone who hosts more than five guests in vacation accommodation.
“To be clear, just because your party has less than 50 people, does not make it legal. You must follow all guidelines,” Farnworth said.
“So if you’re hosting a large penthouse party, organizing a street gathering or drum circle on the beach, we will be watching.”
While venue operators and event organizers could be ticketed, Farnworth said “problematic attendees and individuals” can also get themselves a fine.
“Police and other enforcement officers will be able to issue $200 violation tickets for anyone actively encouraging large gatherings or events, or refusing to leave or disperse when directed to do so,” he said.
Farnworth also said $200 violation tickets will also be issued to anyone who doesn’t follow the safe operating plans at a business.
“People make mistakes. And if you’re asked to leave a gathering, leave,” Farnworth said. “Don’t yell at the waiter who asks you not to push your tables together at a restaurant. Don’t be belligerent towards the hard-working people who are trying to keep us all safe.”
Anyone wanting to report concerns of venues or individuals not following COVID-19 regulations can contact their local bylaw office or the local police’s non-emergency line.
The province will also use the help of liquor, cannabis and gaming inspectors, community safety unit inspectors, WorkSafeBC and conservation officers to issue tickets as needed.
“From this point forward, we’re going to make sure those making selfish decisions are risking more than their reputations,” Farnworth said.
“Remember, a party is not worth someone’s life.”
Previously, some of B.C.’s public health orders – like gatherings not being allowed to have more than 50 people – have been a challenge to enforce.
But under a state of emergency, the public safety minister can use extraordinary powers to support B.C.’s pandemic response.
Farnworth’s announcement comes as B.C.’s active caseload of the disease continues to rise. On Thursday, B.C. health officials reported 80 new positive cases of COVID-19 and two additional deaths.
Farnworth said many of the recent spikes in cases are coming from private, indoor parties.
“That’s the real problem,” he said. “It’s a small minority of people, so that’s what these enforcement measures are targeted at.”
While Farnworth said future escalations in enforcement will be considered if necessary, he said the province has not yet considered ordering a curfew and that implementing one would only be done at the provincial health officer’s recommendation.
But for anyone encouraging others to break the public health rules, Farnworth had a strong message.
“If you’re ignorant enough and stupid enough to encourage people to attend an event and not to follow provincial health officer orders, then you’re setting yourself up for a fine,” he said.
“Of course depending on what you do and how you do it, there may well be potential of criminal charges that could follow.”