Some Lower Mainland municipalities and the province are considering or instituting fresh preventive measures intended to curb the spread of COVID-19 at popular outdoor areas that have been slammed with people in recent days.
By day, the problem has been packed parks, trails and beaches, and full parking lots, but by night it has been partying, includinglarge beach bashes in Vancouver last weekend.
West Vancouver, for example, is set to institute traffic-control measures and parking restrictions at and around popular parks in a bid to keep the number of visitors in check. Police, firefighters and bylaw officers will all be on hand to educate and ticket as needed, according to city staff.
White Rock councillors were slated to consider Monday evening hiring more bylaw officers and fencing off its pier, several parking lots and its entire promenade, listed by the city as being more than two-kilometres long.
But after all the hard partying in Vancouver, there was little indication that a hard-nosed response was en route in that municipality. Instead, city staff pointed to the Vancouver police as being responsible for ticketing COVID-19-related infractions, cops demonstrated they were too busy to do so, Vancouver’s mayor said his city needed more resources from the province and B.C.’s public safety minister said the Lower Mainland authorities seemed to be taking things seriously.
People who attend “a non-compliant event or gathering” can be hit with a $575 ticket, said staff at the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General.
But neither park rangers nor the city’s bylaw officers have the authority to issue those tickets, city staff said. So while park rangers were on hand during last weekend’s parties, they could only report to the VPD what they were seeing.
Around that time officers were tied up responding to several serious calls, including a homicide, said VPD Sgt. Steve Addison. By the time officers arrived at English Bay and found “a flash mob dance party” of some 200 to 300 people, it was neither feasible nor realistic to issue tickets and they dispersed the crowd, Addison said.
On Sunday, Mayor Kennedy Stewart said he had talked to Chief Const. Adam Palmer and said police were reassessing their response to outdoor partying. Addison explained what cops were considering. The VPD normally deploys a beach patrol during the summer months, but to bridge the gap until then, it will consider deploying additional officers on weekends and unseasonably warm nights, he said.
Alvin Singh, the mayor’s communications director, said it was Stewart who contacted Palmer on Sunday. The two discussed the possibility of securing additional resources from B.C., among other things.
“Bylaw officers (and park rangers) are not authorized to issue tickets related to the public health order — that’s why there were no tickets,” Singh said in a written statement. Stewart planned to followup with Mike Farnworth, the minister of Public Safety and Solicitor-General, about that, he said.
Meanwhile, Farnworth too was fielding questions from reporters Monday about the Vancouver parties. When asked whether there were enough provincial enforcement officers around B.C. to assist police in enforcing public health orders, Farnworth said the province was looking at what options it had available in terms of further enforcement or restrictions.
Asked at what point officers should step in and ticket people, Farnworth deferred to police as the ones who make operational decisions and assess situations and deal with them accordingly.
“I think the fact that the City of Vancouver and the police have indicated they are reviewing how they deal with these situations tells me that they take these things very seriously,” he said.
— With files from Cheryl Chan and Katie De Rosa