Police don't plan to break up a weekend rally against B.C.'s COVID-19 restrictions. Here's why.
While officials know in advance about an upcoming rally that many feel violates current public health orders in B.C., they will not be taking measures to stop the gathering.
The mayor and top cop in Kelowna issued a joint statement Friday explaining why this is the stance they're taking, but urging members of the public to stay home.
In a news release, Mayor Colin Basran and RCMP Supt. Kara Triance confirmed they were aware of a rally planned in Kelowna on Saturday.
As with similar events in the province, some feel these anti-mask or anti-restriction rallies should be stopped, and that participants should be arrested.
They question police inaction, given pandemic-prompted rules in B.C. that currently prohibit social gatherings of more than 10 people outside.
But in Friday's statement, Basran and Triance explained that while police will be at the event, and will take steps to limit the risk to the public, they will not be making arrests just for participating.
The pair cited a B.C. Supreme Court decision last month, in which it was determined the public health order could not stop gatherings and protests due to rights established in the Canadian Charter.
The Charter of Rights and Freedoms includes the freedoms of peaceful assembly and of association – freedoms which, according to the March 18 ruling, were infringed upon by the public health order.
"Given this court ruling, the RCMP approach is to maintain order and minimize the impact and inconvenience that lawful and peaceful protests create for the rest of the community," the statement said.
Triance said the role of police during the COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging and has frequently changed.
"We continue to attempt to dissuade protests and gatherings, but when they take place, the RCMP is present to ensure the safety of the public, and the protesters, and to prevent confrontations," she said.
"Law enforcement in a large crowd is challenging. In these cases, best practices for police are to make sure the event remains peaceful and that people remain respectful towards each other."
Mayor Basran said the majority of residents of Kelowna are following all public health orders, and encouraged them to continue to do so.
"With dangerous new variants in this third wave of the pandemic, everyone should wear a mask, keep a safe distance from each other and limit travel in our community – or to our community," he said.
The statement came as provincial Safety Minister Mike Farnworth revealed further details on a plan meant to stop British Columbians from travelling through the province. Those who break the temporary travel ban could be fined as much as $575.
Basran said he and other officials respect the right to protest.
"At the same time, we have also always said we wish people at these rallies would follow public health orders like everyone else – and that message has not changed."