RCMP can now set up checkpoints on B.C. highway corridors to deter non-essential travel: minister

British Columbia’s solicitor general has announced further details of how police road checks will be used to enforce travel ban aimed at reducing the spread of COVID-19 across the province.

Mike Farnworth, who is also the public safety minister, announced orders a week ago to limit non-essential travel between three regional zones until May 25.

He said police will conduct periodic road checks at key travel points and violators could be issued $575 fines.

Farnworth said in a Friday news conference that the RCMP can now set up road checks on highway corridors connecting regional zones, but they would not be used within the zones, in downtown Vancouver, for example.

He said police can ask the driver of a vehicle for the reason for their travel, along with their name, address, licence and secondary identification if an individual has recently moved. Documentation proving the reason for travel will not be required, and vehicle passengers will not be asked for documentation.

Police will ask drivers to turn around

Farnworth said police will not be collecting personal information.

If police determine that a driver is travelling outside their zone for a non-essential reason, the driver will be directed to turn around and leave the area. 

Farnworth said there will be signs warning drivers of upcoming check stops, which will allow them to turn around if they feel their travel is not essential.

“Spreading this message will continue to be more important than ticketing,” said Farnworth, adding that the restrictions brought in a week ago have begun to have an impact — and that the message is to stay in your local community.

“We will continue to drive home the message that just because you are in your health authority, it doesn’t mean that you go from Abbotsford to Whistler.”

Alberta border, ferry checks

Farnworth said there will not be check stops on the border with Alberta, where COVID-19 case counts are currently surging.

The province will continue to manage the provincial border with signs warning travellers they should not be entering B.C.

There will also not be check stops around BC Ferries terminals. Farnworth said BC Ferries staff will continue to ask passengers for their reason for travelling, and enforcement will be handled by RCMP and municipal police forces.

(CBC News)

The highway check stops will be run by a dedicated unit of the RCMP’s E-division.

The National Police Federation previously criticized the order, saying it lacks clarity and that its RCMP members in B.C. are at risk of public backlash and exposure to the coronavirus due to a slow immunization rollout for officers.

On Friday, the federation issued a statement in reaction to Farnworth’s news conference, saying “we are pleased to see that this order address many of our concerns and is significantly reduced from the minister’s initial enforcement-centred proposal, and is focused on information and encouraging people not to travel between regions.

“We will continue to work with the RCMP on its implementation and to addressing member concerns.”

Concerns raised about expanded police powers

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association has said Indigenous, Black and racialized communities could be at risk of negative harmful impacts when dealing with police.

Farnworth has maintained the province sought input from racialized communities but, when asked on Friday, did not provide specifics of which groups he consulted with.

“We have been listening to these concerns,” he said.

“There will be no street checks. These orders apply to the enforcement at the site where checks are set up. While restrictions are in place, we will listen to feedback to get it right.”

The government is using provincial health authority regions to define the boundaries of the regional zones that people are not supposed to cross for non-essential reasons.

The three regional zones are:

  • The Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley (Vancouver Coastal Health and Fraser Health areas).
  • Vancouver Island (Island Health).
  • Northern and Interior regions (Northern health and Interior Health).

Farnworth also said the province has expanded the list of essential travel reasons, including people avoiding abuse or violence, and adding to the list of those who can visit long-term care homes.

Other reasons for travel deemed essential include:

  • attending school or work.
  • transporting commercial goods.
  • returning to a principal residence.
  • accessing child care.
  • using health care or assisting someone in obtaining health care.

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