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Coronavirus: Bylaw officers in Okanagan aiming to educate, warn public about COVID-19

Click to play video: 'Okanagan bylaw officers help enforce health orders' Okanagan bylaw officers help enforce health orders
Bylaw officers in the Okanagan and around B.C. have been pulled in to help with the fight against the coronavirus. But don’t expect to see bylaw officers in the valley issuing tickets or making arrests. As Megan Turcato reports, their role is to educate the public and collective information about possible violations – Mar 31, 2020

Municipalities across B.C. are being asked to help stop the spread of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

On Thursday, the provincial government issued an order for municipal bylaw enforcement officers to assist with recent public health orders.

That translates into officers educating the public and giving warnings. As for handing out fines to social-distance or quarantine-ignoring scofflaws, it appears that won’t be the case.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Bylaw officers to help enforce B.C. health orders with $25,000 fines

“Our role is going to be educative in its approach,” said City of Penticton bylaw services supervisor Tina Siebert, adding the city’s plan is to provide “warnings and education to the public when there is a location or a business that’s operating and it’s supposed to be shut down.”

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Siebert said “our role is quite proactive. We are doing proactive patrols of our parks and sporting fields and those types of locations, so that we can ensure the public is following the public health order.”

She added the city wants to make sure the “public is well aware and keeping their social distance.”

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The city said it is accepting public complaints and concerns.

“There are some things we can and can’t do,” said Siebert. “Our role is really to provide assistance with this request.”

Siebert said bylaw officers will monitor facilities closed by the public health order, provide education and warnings, and pass information on to health officers “if there is quite serious contraventions of a public health order.”

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Siebert also said there are certain things bylaw officers can’t do, including not being able to issue a fine or a penalty through the Public Health Act. She said that would require the city to pass a municipal bylaw, which Penticton currently doesn’t have.

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Asked if the city has been busy fielding public calls about the novel coronavirus, Siebert said residents have been quite concerned.

“We want to make sure that we can be as responsive as we possibly can,” said Siebert. “We are getting those calls now and we had been before this order was even issued.”

Elsewhere in the Okanagan, the City of Kelowna said B.C.’s decision to suspend municipal states of emergencies aligns with Kelowna’s decision not to declare one.

“The provincial state of emergency provides all the necessary powers to address the immediate needs in our community for safety and compliance with the medical health officer’s orders,” the city said in an email to Global News.

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Regarding the enforcement of public health orders, the city said B.C.’s order “mandates local authorities and its bylaw enforcement officers to be proactive educators and reporters of provincial public health orders and any contraventions of those orders.”

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The city added that Kelowna RCMP have been handling complaints, “since they have jurisdiction and the requisite authorities to do so.”

The city continued, saying “we are advised that there have not been many complaints and so this work has been manageable for frontline police services. Bylaw services and the city are working with the RCMP to assess how we can best to assist them in this work within the parameters of the new order.”

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Bylaw officers to help enforce B.C. health orders with $25,000 fines

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