It’s a move that raises red flags and is likely to spark outrage as people await details.
VANCOUVER—Days after the Ontario government reversed course over allowing police officers to stop people to request their home addresses, B.C. said Monday it will restrict non-essential travel of British Columbians outside their own provincial health regions.
“Non-essential travel should be confined to local travel only,” B.C. Premier John Horgan said at a press conference.
“This will be conducted through random audits, not unlike roadside stops … during the Christmas season … There will be a fine if you are travelling outside of your area without a legitimate reason,” he said.
B.C. has five regional health authorities, and both the Fraser Health and Vancouver Coastal Health regions are located within the populous Metro Vancouver area.
It is common for someone who lives in the city of Surrey in Fraser Health to drive 45 minutes to workplaces in downtown Vancouver in the Vancouver Coastal Health Region.
The move comes after independent modelling experts said hospitalizations from COVID-19 are projected to overwhelm hospital capacity in B.C. by May, unless rigorous restrictions are put in place.
B.C. recorded 1,005 new COVID-19 cases Friday, along with 425 hospitalizations, breaking a record set earlier last week. B.C. had also announced six more deaths Friday, bringing the total number to 1,530.
The premier did not say how much the fines would be, and the provincial public safety ministry did not respond to questions from the Star by publication time.
The police stops will happen at roadblocks in random locations, rather than along the boundaries of health regions, according to the premier.
“This is about travel. There will be no additional authority given to police. This will be a random audit to ensure people are following the guidelines,” Horgan said.
The premier added that tourism industry operators will be involved in helping to eliminate travel bookings from people in different health regions and travellers from other provinces.
“This is not the time to load up the Winnebago and travel around British Columbia,” Horgan said.
“If you live in the Fraser Health area, by all means, take a few days, get outside, perhaps go to a campground in your local area. But do not try and book somewhere outside of your area because the tourism operator in that community will not book your passage.”
It is unclear whether involvement in such measures will be voluntary on the part of hotels or car rental companies, or whether the government can compel operators to comply.
Horgan said the province’s Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General will issue the orders on Friday.
It is also unclear whether travellers and drivers will need to carry address verification documents and be prepared to show the documents to police.
Kyla Lee, a Vancouver-based defence lawyer specializing in driving and traffic stops, called the announcements “highly concerning.”
“I was incredibly disappointed to see B.C. bring these measures in, and (Horgan’s) remarks left many questions unaddressed,” she told the Star.
“How do you prove you live in a particular health authority? For me, my car insurance is associated with an address in downtown Vancouver and my driver’s licence is associated with another … and lots of people are in similar situations.”
Lee says the government should immediately provide clarification on the amount of fines that will be levied, the documentation that would be required, and the permissible scope of questioning that police are going to have.
“How far can (police) go, or are there going to be limits?”
Lee said that she is concerned that police will have powers to compel people to divulge confidential information.
She also said it is unclear how the government will work with tourism operators to eliminate non-essential travel bookings, comparing the rule to an “ineffective” earlier regulation that people in B.C. could only dine out at restaurants with others in their household.
“No one was following it. Restaurants weren’t in a position to police it.”
“If hotel operators or travel bookers … are tasked with the responsibility of policing, they will likely simply take people at their word, and anyone can phone up and say they’re coming for essential work,” Lee said.
The lawyer questioned if the province explored other options before resorting to banning inter-regional travel within the province.
“Why are we not closing vacation destination places, such as resorts? … If their concern is recreational travel, eliminating recreational destinations seems to be more in line with reasonable balance to stop the spread of COVID-19 and to protect people’s liberties,” she said.
On Saturday, Ontario had reversed course on sweeping new police powers, just one day after Premier Doug Ford announced the measures that triggered a swift and furious backlash.
Officers will no longer have the right to stop any pedestrian or driver to ask why they’re out or request their home address, Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said in a written statement Saturday evening.
Instead, she said, police will only be able to stop people who they have reason to believe are participating in an “organized public event or social gathering.”
With files from The Canadian Press