Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said the Alberta government respects B.C.’s plan to restrict non-essential travel from outside the province, but the UCP won’t be implementing its own comparable measures to reduce transmission of COVID-19.
The government of B.C. announced on Monday it would be implementing roadside checks as a means of reducing non-essential travel across its health regions.
The province is also planning to implement travel restrictions on Friday, and will be posting signs along the Alberta border reminding anyone driving into B.C. that it should only be for essential travel.
“Everybody will be asked where they’re going and where they came from,” B.C. Premier John Horgan said Monday.
“It’s not heavy-handed in my mind. It’s random and it will be done at a particular place at a particular time.”
When asked about the plan on Tuesday, Kenney said it’s his understanding that there won’t be an “absolute closure of the borders,” but that the measure is a “very strong advisory” for Albertans.
“We respect the right of provincial governments to bring in their own measures as the Atlantic provinces did in a very blunt way, about a year back, and I think that British Columbia has a very good point,” he said.
“This is not the time for non-essential travel. We have seen a number of the very contagious P.1 Brazilian variant cases we know came to Alberta from travel from British Columbia.”
Earlier this month, cases of the P.1 variant of COVID-19 linked to the Whistler Blackcomb ski resort were confirmed to have spread into Alberta, and led to an increase in cases in the province’s mountain towns.
“We don’t plan on taking any additional measures at this point, we just encourage people to avoid non-essential travel at this time,” Kenney said.
“And really, if we can just get the bend down this curve now and let the vaccines get ahead of the variants, then I am certain we’ll be able to get back to regular travel in the summer. But right now, it’s just not the time to do that.”
Legalities of the restriction
According to Kyla Lee, lawyer at Acumen Law in Vancouver, the fact that the two provinces are somewhat divided on enforcing restrictions on non-essential inter-provincial travel, could lead to confusion for residents.
Lee said restricting travel between neighbouring provinces isn’t unprecedented – Ontario and the Atlantic bubble are prime examples – but in this case, it’s surprising that B.C. made the decision without communicating with the Alberta government.
“(That) puts Albertans in a difficult position because if the government in Alberta is saying it’s OK to travel to B.C. – or at least, you shouldn’t, but you can – and then (the B.C.) government is saying, ‘You’re not welcome here unless it’s for an essential purpose,’ then you get mixed messaging from two different governments,” she said.
“That makes it hard for citizens to decide what to do and to decide how to exercise their rights and their liberties.”
Under normal circumstances, B.C. wouldn’t be able to turn people away from its borders, but because of the state of emergency and Emergency Programs Act, Lee said the government “can create laws that violate the charter so long as they’re rationally connected to the purposes of the emergency.”
“So if there is a high level of transmission coming from people travelling from outside the province, closing the borders to stop the spread of transmission of the virus could be justified,” she said.
Another layer of complication in this proposed restriction is if Albertans, or people elsewhere in the country, choose to fly instead of drive into B.C., as airports and airlines fall under federal jurisdiction.
“In order for there to be a way to prevent people from getting on a plane to come to B.C. or getting off the plane and not just turning them around at the Vancouver airport, the (B.C.) government would need to have the cooperation of the feds,” she said.
That’s something the federal government doesn’t appear to be planning, Lee said, especially in light of incentives being offered to airlines for increasing domestic flights, and the fact that there are only four cities international travellers can enter the country through.
She said B.C. could set up roadblocks outside the province’s airports to potentially stop travellers from going any further.
Lee said if the restrictions were to be challenged, the courts will look at whether B.C. tried other measures to restrict travel — such as signs along the highway or closing campgrounds, hikes or beaches — and found they didn’t work before resorting to “the most extreme measure,” and ultimately determine whether the restrictions are necessary.
— With files from Matthew Conrod, Global News