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B.C. looks at speedy increase in fines for repeat COVID-19 offenders

Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth speaks to media about how non-medical cannabis will be regulated in the province during a press conference in the press gallery at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Monday February 5, 2018. Farnworth says the government has been working hard to transition away from the province's "well-entrenched" illegal marijuana industry. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito.

Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth has asked ministry staff to look at whether the government can quickly increase fines for those caught breaking COVID-19 laws multiple times.

“I do know there are some legal issues in terms of what can be done administratively rather than through the legislature, which takes time,” Farnworth said Tuesday.

“I think the message is really clear: Abide by these rules. The sooner we defeat this virus, the sooner life will be able to get back to normal.”

Click to play video: 'Coronavirus: Frustration growing over those in B.C. not obeying health orders' Coronavirus: Frustration growing over those in B.C. not obeying health orders
Coronavirus: Frustration growing over those in B.C. not obeying health orders – Dec 7, 2020

The comment followed incidents at a handful of churches, mainly in the Fraser Valley, in which congregants have refused to obey the provincial orders that ban in-person religious services.

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Last month, the Riverside Calvary Chapel in Langley was fined $2,300 for being open even after it was ordered to close.

Read more: Langley, B.C., church fined for violating COVID-19 restrictions

Last weekend, the Chilliwack RCMP said they were investigating after several churches still held in-person services, saying the public health order violates their constitutional rights.

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“It’s unfortunate we have a very small group of religious groups who are not following the guidelines and the health orders,” Farnworth said.

“They have been ticketed. And they will be ticketed again and again and again.”

Click to play video: 'Several Fraser Valley churches hold services despite health order and police warnings' Several Fraser Valley churches hold services despite health order and police warnings
Several Fraser Valley churches hold services despite health order and police warnings – Dec 6, 2020

The province has retained Robert Daum, a well-known Jewish scholar and facilitator, to hold discussions with faith leaders and address concerns around a lack of face-to-face services during the holidays.

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Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has extended the ban on religious and social gatherings through Christmas until midnight on Jan. 8, leaving many having to re-evaluate how they will spend time with their loved ones.

The main goal is to inform rule-breakers of the rules before handing out fines, Farnworth said.

“There is a small group of people, who, to put it bluntly, are ignorant about following these rules,” he said.

“The police will do their job. Their first effort is always to educate, to get people to comply by moral suasion. Those that are repeat offenders will get ticketed.”

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