VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — Vancouver’s mayor says he’s been in touch with the police chief, and the department will be “reassessing their approach to outdoor parties” held in defiance of COVID-related restrictions — like the one at English Bay Saturday.
Kennedy Stewart, in a Tweet Sunday, said he understands people are frustrated with pandemic-related restrictions and eager to enjoy the warm weather, but “now is not the time to be gathering in large groups”
I know it’s been a long winter, I know it’s frustrating not being able to see your friends, but now is not the time to be gathering in large groups.
I’ve been in contact with Chief Palmer and after a busy weekend the VPD will be reassessing their approach to outdoor parties. https://t.co/jM83qVs7wL
— Kennedy Stewart (@kennedystewart) April 18, 2021
Pointing out police were busy responding to a nearby homicide, Stewart says police have “better things to do” than crack down on gatherings or enforce provincial health orders.
Speaking on behalf of the Vancouver Police Department, Const. Tania Visintin says officers did respond to calls about the raucous crowd at the beach.
“We did eventually get to the party. However, the crowd had decreased, and no tickets were given at that point,” she says.
“This is all very frustrating, I know it is and one could argue that enforcing these COVID regulations or rules that Dr. Bonnie Henry has set out is important — and it is important. But we do have to prioritize our calls. Vancouver’s a big major city and with that comes a lot of police response. We have to prioritize our assaults, our domestics our mental health calls before we get to those.”
She says people should not hesitate to report instances of people flouting restrictions by calling 311 or the police non-emergency line.
“We will respond when we have the resources available, but we also need help from the public — people need to follow the rules,” she says.
“So, we’re hoping that adults can be adults and follow these rules.”
Coun. Pete Fry says these types of gatherings are “stupid and selfish” and could very well trigger the province to bring in harsher measures to curb them.
“Unfortunately, the voluntary compliance for Vancouver has apparently fallen short.,” he says. “It is going to force the hand of the provincial health authority to actually do something a little bit more assertive,” he says, adding stricter rules will likely hurt already struggling industries.
Pointing out that Vancouver’s Mayor and Council don’t set enforcement priorities for police, Fry says it makes sense to him that the force and individual officers might decide to take a hands-off approach.
“It’s not only a question of resources, it’s a question of safety. They can’t just go in and break these things up, and everyone just walks away and says, ‘Ok have a good night.’ These are complicated interventions, they have complicated outcomes and we want to make sure the police are safe, so the police are triaging what the best approach might be.”
Municipal bylaw officers and park rangers can’t issue fines to people who attend or organize events in contravention of provincial rules.
“City enforcement staff and park rangers actively provide education about compliance with provincial health orders at the City’s beaches, parks, bars, restaurants, and businesses offering personal services. City enforcement staff involve the VPD when dealing with people or businesses who are persistent offenders,” according to an email.
“Enforcing physical distancing in public with penalties is the jurisdiction of the Province. The VPD is the agency that enforces provincial health orders at private parties.”
Still, Fry says he plans to talk to his colleagues on council and city staff about enforcement.
“It’s certainly not unclear what’s the provincial health orders and COVID-19 protocols are, that’s not unclear. It’s a fair question about how to better enforce some of that. That’s certainly a conversation, I’ll be having when we resume next week on Monday, and asking our staff: What can we be doing differently?” he says.
“The sad part is just that we need to have that kind of response in the first place.”