Lawyers working for the B.C. government have concluded the province cannot legally restrict non-essential travel.
Premier John Horgan had sought legal advice after concerns travel from outside B.C. had contributed to the spread of COVID-19.
“The review of our legal options made it clear we can’t prevent people from travelling to British Columbia. We can impose restrictions on people travelling for non-essential purposes if they are causing harm to the health and safety of British Columbians,” Horgan said.
“Much of current interprovincial travel is work related and therefore cannot be restricted.”
Health officials in B.C. have repeatedly urged people from other provinces not to travel here, but have no legal authority to stop them.
A recommendation against non-essential travel within British Columbia has been in place since mid-November.
The Atlantic provinces have made themselves a bubble, but Horgan said that’s “easier to manage than it would be here in B.C.”
Resort communities such as Whistler have seen a recent influx of out-of-province visitors, including from Ontario and Quebec, where COVID-19 transmission has been much higher than in British Columbia.
“Public health officials tell us what is most important is for everyone to obey health orders, wherever they are, rather than imposing mobility rules. Therefore, we will not be imposing travel restrictions at this time,” Horgan said.
“If we see transmission increase due to interprovincial travel, we will impose stronger restrictions on non-essential travellers. We will continue to work with the tourism and hospitality sectors to make sure all possible safety precautions are in place.”
Horgan and premiers across the country met with the federal government on Thursday.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told the premiers he is exploring further international travel restrictions. Horgan said he is pushing the other provinces to encourage people in their province not to travel right now even though it is not against the law.
“I asked my colleagues to carry a message back to their citizens: now is not the time for non-essential travel,” Horgan said
“We ask all British Columbians to stay close to home while vaccines become available. And to all Canadians outside of B.C., we look forward to your visit to our beautiful province when we can welcome you safely.”