British Columbians caught flouting strict public health orders meant to fight the novel coronavirus pandemic could now face massive fines and even time behind bars.
In announcing “unprecedented” new powers on Thursday, Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said municipal bylaw officers would help with enforcement.
“We will be enabling municipal bylaw officers to be redeployed to help ensure compliance with provincial with the provincial health officers recommendations and orders,” said Farnworth.
Under the order, bylaw officers will not be allowed to detain anyone or directly issue a fine, but can issue warnings and communicate violations to public health officials.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has banned gatherings of more than 50 people and ordered the closure of bars, restaurants and personal service businesses if staff cannot implement social-distancing measures. Individuals are also directed to keep two meters apart out in public.
“I’ll remind everyone, Dr. Henry’s orders aren’t suggestions,” said Farnworth. “They are the law.”
People caught breaking the orders could face fines of up to $25,000 and jail terms of up to six months, under B.C.’s Public Health Act.
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Farnworth also announced the suspension of municipal states of emergency to allow for better coordination of the pandemic response, except for the City of Vancouver whose declaration was made under the Vancouver Charter and not the Emergency Program Act.
Vancouver city council has approved fines of up to $50,000 for people caught breaking public health orders.
The move is one of several major new measures in effect under the provincial state of emergency that was declared March 18.
Other orders announced Thursday include a ban on the mass purchase and resale of essential goods such as food and medical supplies, and sweeping new powers to manage supply chains across the province.