Editor’s note: This story has been edited to reflect updated information from the provincial government that police will not be conducting random, individual roadside checks.
VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Enforcing B.C.’s new COVID-19 travel restrictions may turn out to be a “logistical nightmare” according to a political analyst, and the details will be key.
On Monday, Premier John Horgan announced B.C. will have roadside stops starting Friday through the May long weekend, to prevent people from leaving their health authority without a legitimate reason. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth clarified on Tuesday police will not be doing random stops, but instead are considering “periodic roadblocks only” at places such as BC Ferries terminals and Highway 1 out of the Lower Mainland.
The province is expected to provide more details on Friday about how people can prove their travel is essential, and what penalties people violating the rules will face.
However, enforcement could prove problematic in B.C.’s more populated areas, according to University of the Fraser Valley political science professor Hamish Telford.
“I presume, they’re going to elevate this restriction from a guideline to an order,” he said. “Seems to me implausible to call in the police to enforce a guideline. It has to be an order.”
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However, he’s concerned people could still be at the mercy of an officer’s definition of essential travel.
“If this is going to be an order, we need a lot more definition and specificity as to what constitutes essential movement, And even with that, it has its risks,” he said. “Getting into the discretion of various police officers whom you may encounter as to whether or not your business, traveling across these borders is in fact essential again it just sounds to me like a logistical nightmare.”
Telford doesn’t think the province is envisioning people having documents justifying their travel outside their immediate area like some European countries like France and Ireland had.
Restrictions may not survive court challenge
Telford also questions the constitutionality of such a possible order.
“It’s not clear to me that this particular restriction would pass constitutional muster if it was challenged in court, in part, because of the very difficulty in enforcing it. Who gets stopped? Is it truly random or are people being chosen selectively? When people get to go in for, and some people are denied transit for similar sorts of reasons then the law starts to appear to be arbitrary.”
Telford says the province’s decision to encourage people to explore, but stay within B.C. last summer may have been one of the main contributing factors to the second wave of the pandemic.
“I can’t help feeling today in a certain sense that this is a problem of the government’s own making,” he said. “Now we are bringing in the police to try and regulate people’s travel around the city. It seems to me to be a terribly sad day, and kind of too little too late.”
Though he admits he is not a health official, he believes there are other measures the province could put in place to limit people’s social interactions.
In addition to travel restrictions, BC Ferries will also not accept bookings for campers and trailers and the province is working with tourism operators to prevent people from booking if they are not from the local area. Bans on indoor dining and adult group physical activities, as well as limits on religious gatherings will also remain in place until May 25.
The province recorded 2,960 new COVID-19 cases over the weekend. Eight people died, including a toddler. The child, who was under the age of two, had pre-existing health conditions that complicated their illness.
There are 9,353 active cases, including 441 patients are in the hospital. Of those, 138 are in the ICU.
With files from John Ackermann