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B.C. tourism operators warn inter-provincial travel ban could ‘cripple’ sector

Click to play video 'Tourism Association of B.C. pushing back against potential inter-provincial travel ban' Tourism Association of B.C. pushing back against potential inter-provincial travel ban
The Tourism Association of BC is pushing back against any suggestions of an inter-provincial travel ban to stop the spread of COVID-19. Paul Johnson reports from Whistler – Jan 16, 2021

British Columbia’s tourism industry is warning that a proposal to ban non-essential travel between provinces could prove devastating to a sector that’s already on life support.

Premier John Horgan said Thursday that the province is seeking legal advice on the measure, with an eye to curbing transmission of COVID-19.

The Tourism Association of B.C. says it has commissioned its own legal opinion, which argues that any such ban would likely be unconstitutional.

Click to play video 'The delicate issue of a travel ban and its impacts on Whistler' The delicate issue of a travel ban and its impacts on Whistler
The delicate issue of a travel ban and its impacts on Whistler – Jan 14, 2021

“The Supreme Court of Canada has held that Canadians’ mobility rights are among the most cherished rights of citizenship that are fundamental to nationhood,” the group said in a media release.

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“Government will be required to justify any infringement of those rights by showing they are carefully tailored to solve a real problem that other health measures that do not restrict Canadians’ rights cannot achieve.”

Read more: B.C. faces tough choices as near-term Pfizer vaccine shipments cut in half

That position was echoed by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, which told Global News Morning Saturday that the province would need strong evidence to limit Canadians’ travel rights.

“We do believe Canadians have this right, this constitutional right to move freely within the country, we have mobility rights under the Charter,” program director Cara Zwiebel said.

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“All the rights in the Charter are subject to limits, but those limits have to be reasonable. So a lot will depend on what evidence is animating the government in making this decision.”

Click to play video 'B.C. mulls interprovincial travel ban to slow COVID-19' B.C. mulls interprovincial travel ban to slow COVID-19
B.C. mulls interprovincial travel ban to slow COVID-19 – Jan 17, 2021

The tourism association argued that individual behaviour, not travel, is the problem. It also says it has gone above and beyond to work with the province on COVID-19 protocols and health and safety measures.

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There were long lines for chairlifts at Whistler, one of B.C.’s meccas for visitors, on Saturday, though operators said that was, in part, due to those health and safety rules.

Skiers must stay two metres apart, while chairlifts and gondolas are being limited to household cohorts, slowing loading.

Spokesperson Marc Riddel said this weekend, which is the Martin Luther King holiday in the U.S., would usually have the slopes packed with American tourists.

Read more: Coronavirus: Organizer of Kelowna COVID-19 protest issued third $2,300 fine

“In a traditional year, this place would have been packed, because the snow conditions have been second to none,” he said, adding that the resort advises people to follow all public health orders — including the one against non-essential travel.

Click to play video 'Premier Horgan says B.C. government will seek legal advice on non-essential travel' Premier Horgan says B.C. government will seek legal advice on non-essential travel
Premier Horgan says B.C. government will seek legal advice on non-essential travel – Jan 14, 2021

“It’s a fine balance for us. What we can control is the the mountain experience, staying open. It’s important for our employees … its certainly important for the community and the businesses that rely on us to remain open,” he said.

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In the Whistler Village, Global News cameras captured an eerily quiet street scene, and some local businesses said their sales were down as much as 70 per cent.

Click to play video 'COVID-19 testing causes confusion for air travelers' COVID-19 testing causes confusion for air travelers
COVID-19 testing causes confusion for air travelers – Jan 14, 2021

Despite the quiet appearance, the community has also faced recent reports of a surge in out-of-province visitors from places like Ontario and Quebec, where COVID-19 cases far exceed those in British Columbia.

There is no clear timeline for the province to produce its legal opinion on the proposed ban.

However, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry suggested Thursday it likely wouldn’t fly, noting that there are too many ways to enter the province.

“It’s hard to see how that is feasible,” she said.

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