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B.C. road checks for COVID-19 travel ban now allowed

Last Updated May 1, 2021 at 11:06 am PDT

Summary

'Counter attack' style road checks can now be set up to question people who are leaving their travel zones

Passengers will not be questioned about their reasons for travel, BC.'s public safety minister said

Visiting someone in long-term care, escaping abuse added to list of essential reasons for travel

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – RCMP in B.C. can now set up road checks at certain spots in the province to prevent people from travelling for non-essential reasons outside of their zones.

The measures are in place in the province’s effort to curb spread of COVID-19, especially variants of concern. People violating the restrictions could be fined hundreds of dollars.

Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth says Mounties now have the authority to do set up the road checks, with the province adding two new valid reasons for travel.

“First, for the purpose of avoiding the risk of abuse or violence,” he said. “Second, to expand who can visit to long term care and assisted living facilities to include social visits,” Farnworth described.

(A full list of essential reasons for travel can be found below)

Farnworth says the “counter-attack style” checks can be set up on highway corridors that connect three different regional zones:

  • Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley (Fraser Health and Coastal Health regions)
  • Vancouver Island (Island Health region)
  • Northern/Interior (Interior Health and Northern Health regions)

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B.C. RCMP members can now set up checks to prevent you from leaving your region unless necessary.

“But you will not see road checks in downtown Vancouver, or along Boundary Road,” Farnworth emphasized on Friday. He adds police are not allowed to do “arbitrary vehicle or street checks.”

The BC RCMP in the process of determining where checks but in a statement Mounties add that signs will be placed well ahead of the road checks to warn travellers and provide them the opportunity to safely turn if their trip is essential.

“We recognize that these checks will impact traffic flow and could potentially lead to delays. Leading up to the May long weekend we encourage everyone to revisit their plans and limit travel outside of their community. By working together, we will help to slow the spread of COVID-19 and return to normal seasonal travel more quickly,” the statement reads.

If you are stopped at a road check between regions, Farnworth says police are only allowed to ask:

  • a driver’s name, address and driver’s license
  • any available documentation regarding driver’s name and address (for example, secondary identification that confirms a driver’s residential address if recently moved)
  • the purpose of the driver’s travel (documentation regarding travel is not required)

 

“Police will only be required or will be asking questions of the driver, not of the passengers. Passengers will not … have to provide documentation,” Farnworth noted. “I think at the end of the day, most people want to do the right thing, and will do the right thing.”

Lawyer Kyla Lee notes that while police may ask questions beyond the three listed above, people are not compelled to answer them.

She’s pleased to hear that people won’t have to show documentation on the purpose of their travel or provide details beyond the reasons they are travelling.

“Asking people to get into too many details … could put a much more onerous burden on individuals,” Lee said. “I had initially been concerned that the way the inquiries were going to take place roadside would mean that people of colour, Indigenous people, Black people who were travelling would be subjected to more questioning and more scrutiny.”

Farnworth says if police have “reasonable grounds” to think you are unnecessarily travelling outside your regional zone, they can tell you to leave and possibly issue you a fine.

Failure to comply with the requirements at a road check or direction given by a police officer could land you a $230 fine. There is a $575 fine for violating the travel ban.

Lee, however, worries about a possible grey area in the emergency order from the province.

“There’s a power within the emergency order that was introduced last week that gives police the power to issue a ticket to anybody who is rude or belligerent when dealing with them,” she said.

“Rudeness and belligerence isn’t really defined any particular way. So it gives the officers a lot of power to ticket people just, arguably, on the basis of their tone in answering questions or on the basis of a look they give them. If the officer perceives that as being rude, then that could be used against them,” she added.

Farnworth says there will be signs before these road checks, to give drivers advance notice.

“There will be signs several kilometres ahead of time, warning people, ‘No essential travel, and by the way, there’s a checkup ahead … [and there’s an] opportunity to turn around,'” he said.

He says you can expect RCMP to periodically set up on one of the three main routes from the Lower Mainland to the B.C. Interior.

“You’re either going to go the Canyon route, you’re going to go the Coquihalla, or you’re going to go to Hope-Princeton,” he said. “Those are the three main arterial routes that I bet you probably … 95 per cent of the people in this province take. to go into the Okanagan or up north.”

“If you’re going to put a road check to discourage non essential travel, that’s the best place to do it. The RCMP will look for locations that are safe for their members that are safe for their public, and then have access to turn people around. And that’s where they’ll go,” he added.

There have been calls from the public for more clarity around these travel rules, since they were announced over a week ago.

The province says you may find road checks at any time until the current order is lifted at 12:01 a.m. on May 25, 2021 (after the May long weekend).

Essential reasons for travel:

  • Work, both paid and unpaid (volunteer)
  • Commercial transportation of goods
  • Getting health care or social services or helping someone get those services
  • Court appearance, complying with a court order or parole check-in
  • Exercising parental responsibilities (including spending time as a parent with a minor child)
  • Accessing child care services
  • Attending classes at a post-secondary institution or school
  • Responding to emergencies or a critical incident, like search and rescue operations
  • Providing care to a person because of a psychological, behavioural or health condition, or a physical, cognitive or mental impairment
  • Visiting a resident (as an essential visitor) at long-term care or assisted living facility
  • Fleeing the risk of abuse or violence
  • Attending a funeral
  • Travelling under a PHO variance. For example, BCHL
  • Local residents travelling into or out of the Nisga’a Health Authority region from the Northern/Interior travel region

 

When it comes to people travelling into B.C. from Alberta, there is currently no police the border. Farnworth says the issue of the border “is a complicated one.”

“But there will continue to be signage at the border warning people not to come to British Columbia,” he said. We will engage with media in Alberta to remind people that now is not the time to come to British Columbia, unless it’s for essential travel. And even when they come for a central travel, they have to abide by all the rules and regulations and health orders that are in place here in British Columbia.”