Travel ban: Site-specific road checks to be used for enforcement of B.C.'s new COVID-19 rules

More details have been released on B.C.'s travel rules meant to curb the spread of COVID-19 in the province.

Solicitor General Mike Farnworth said Friday morning site-specific road checks would be used to enforce the travel restrictions.

"I would like to take a moment to recognize and thank the vast majority of British Columbians who are doing their part," Farnworth said.

The rules, which were first announced last Friday, will be in place through the May long weekend. Those caught travelling for non-essential reasons outside one of three zones can be fined $575. 

When he announced the rules last week, Farnworth explained the Northern and Interior health authorities would be considered a combined region. The same is the case for Vancouver Coastal Health and Fraser Health regions.

The road checks will be on travel corridors between regions. The road checks may be put in place at any time until the order is lifted at 12:01 a.m. on May 25, 2021.

"You will not see road checks in downtown Vancouver or along Boundary Road," Farnworth said.

"They will be at those high-traffic corridors. The obvious one is (Highway 1) where it goes into the Interior, to the canyon routes, the Coquihalla and the Hope-Princeton."

Farnworth also said motorists will be warned "several kilometres" ahead of the road check with signage. 

"Once stopped at a road check, drivers may be asked to provide a driver's name, address and driver's licence … and the reason for driver's travel."

Farnworth said documentation regarding travel will not be required. Passengers in the vehicle also won't be required to provide information.

If police "have reasonable grounds" to believe the driver is leaving the regional zone for non-essential purposes they can direct the driver to stay in their region or leave the region at that time. Those who don't follow the requirements at a road check may result in a $230 fine. Violating the order is a $575 fine.

"The primary goal of these road checks is to educate and deter people from travelling for non-essential reasons," Farnworth said.

For all regions, people can legally travel within the area, but not outside of them. Even so, Farnworth said guidance on travel within health regions remains the same.

"While travel within your health authority region is not legally restricted, the message is still clear: stay local," he said. "Don't travel from Victoria to the Comox Valley or Kelowna to the Kootenays. If you have to ask, you shouldn't go."

The rules do permit essential travel like going to work, going to school, returning to a principal residence and getting health care services.

For all regions, people can travel within the area, but not outside of them. As well, essential travel like going to work, going to school, returning to a principal residence and getting health care is exempt from these rules.

Two new reasons for essential travel were announced Friday: for the purpose of avoiding risk of abuse or violence and to expand who can visit long-term care or assisted living facilities.

"Kind of like we've seen in other COVID fines, mostly, it's the people who are attracting attention who are going to get them, and not the people who are genuinely mistaken about the reasons for their travel," she said.

Still, there are concerns from some.

"I was also surprised today to see the government is essentially adding a power for police to compel somebody to give the reason for their travel. To me that goes beyond what's necessary," Lee said.

Addressing concerns Indigenous, Black and racialized communities could be targeted unfairly by these new health orders, Farnworth said there is no authority for pedestrians to be stopped on streets or for arbitrary inspections.

"These enforcement orders apply to the site where the road checks are taking place," he said. "To be clear, police are not authorized to record personal information unless an enforcement action is taken. This means police will only record information if a driver is in violation of the order."

He said efforts are underway to make sure the BIPOC community won't be disproportionately affected, but not everyone feels enough has been done.

"There wasn't adequate consultation with First Nations based on the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act," said Chief Don Tom, vice-president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs.

"We have concerns about being racially profiled or not being able to travel to hunt or fish."

Since the road checks are limited, the only police body authorized to conduct them is provincial RCMP's traffic division.

"It will be a dedicated unit that has been put together by the provincial RCMP," Farnworth said.

However, Farnworth said Delta and West Vancouver police will help with any road checks near ferry terminals.

Farnworth said even though the rules were only introduced a week ago, they already appear to be making an impact.

"This past weekend ferry traffic was down, on average, by about 30 per cent. Foot passenger traffic was down 40 per cent … in the B.C. parks system we've had about 5,000 cancellations and rebookings," he said.

"So I think people do get it and they do understand and they have been responding."