Home Health COVID-19 Mask up & stay home: BC finally beefs up COVID enforcement

Mask up & stay home: BC finally beefs up COVID enforcement

Timid pandemic communications has led to this. ~ Editor

Wednesday December 16, 2020 | VICTORIA, BC

Editorial: Analysis by Mary P Brooke, B.Sc., editor | Island Social Trends

After Premier John Horgan came out with a few guns blazing in his press conference yesterday regarding people needing to follow the rules around COVID-19 public health measures, today the BC Government has announced that it is expanding provincial COVID-19 ticket enforcement and workplace safety measures to keep British Columbians safe.

The measures are also expected to mitigate the effects on health-care systems, communities and the economy in the ongoing government response to COVID-19.

In some ways these measures feel like they are coming too late. For most of this year, there were questions addressed by media to both the premier and the Provincial Health Officer as to whether or not stricter enforcement of public health orders might not be the better way to proceed (to avoid increased COVID spread).

There have been concerns all year by media and the attentive public that communications issues have been a combination of mixed-message, less than clear, slow, poorly detailed in areas that would hit home, not understanding the key motivating factors to a broad population, and an ineffective mix of science and political messaging.

Timid pandemic communications by government and public health have led to this much-needed stance being long overdue. Those who have been following the rules are relieved.

Communications is about knowing your audience:

BC, wear a mask, graphic
Graphically generic messaging by BC Health during the COVID pandemic.

Some audiences listened and got the message, and many others did not (including youth, working-age adults, people without a strong science background, and recently-immigrated families or cultures, etc.).

Even the graphics component of messaging was poorly thought out… perhaps in an effort to be clear and unaffected by or to any one particular audience, it fell somewhere between lineart from the 1970s and road-signage simplicity. No capturing of the imagination that was obviously required for urgently but thoughtfully herding the population through a dangerous pandemic.

Calling out mid-year to social media influencers and famous Hollywood actors to be part of the social media push very much fell flat. The job is that of the government to lead its people, not those who capitalize on influence through the Internet and should not have been approached to carry the weight of public education. This shows a disconnect between government and the fast-changing world around them.

COVID injection, Fraser Health, December 15, 2020
The first person to receive the COVID vaccination in BC (in the Vancouver Coastal region) was Nisha Yunus on December 15, 2020.

In the broadest sense this revelation-by-COVID lends understanding to the mental health disconnect of youth over the past 10 to 15 years … youth have created their own world within the ‘real world’ using the Internet, social media, cosplay, gaming, and other realms of social interactivity as an alternate or parallel reality. Even the social influencers had it straight, and knew it wasn’t their place to take on a government role. Public education has also fallen significantly short in understanding and managing the ‘mental health’ file; always trying to fit people into the box instead of understanding why the box was circumvented.

Government could well do with hiring people into their Communications department who have a view to understanding the changing reality out there in the ‘real world’ where people struggle, and have the skills to explain them to government leaders.

Premier pleased that vaccines have begun:

“While I’m pleased to report that vaccinations in BC have begun, which is a reason to celebrate, we need to continue our efforts in the months ahead to protect our province’s most vulnerable,” said Premier John Horgan yesterday and again today in a press release headed up from his office and the office of the Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General.

Premier John Horgan, December 15 2020
Premier John Horgan during his media availability on December 15, 2020.

Normally the premier holds his weekly media availability on Wednesdays, but did so yesterday due to the load of today’s cabinet meeting, he said.

“The provincial health officer’s directions and the solicitor general’s orders are clear,” says Horgan. “Right now, we all need to mask up in indoor public spaces and not gather with anyone outside our household, and today’s expanded enforcement measures will help us change behaviours and bend the curve of infections back down.”

Green light for increased enforcement:

Mike Farnworth, Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General, has asked gaming investigators, conservation officers, community safety unit inspectors, and liquor and cannabis inspectors to actively support police and increase COVID-19 enforcement during their normal course of duties or when in public places.

“Our police departments have been working hard to educate the public and issue violation tickets when necessary,” said Farnworth. “Provincial enforcement officers can already issue violation tickets, but we want to increase the use of the tools available to them. This will put more boots on the ground to actively enforce Emergency Program Act orders and better ensure we can penalize those who insist on putting their own selfishness above public health.”

Mike Farnworth
BC Public Safety Minister & Solicitor General Mike Farnworth, December 14, 2020 in Vancouver.

Sending offenders directly to collections:

To better hold offenders accountable for paying their provincial COVID-19 violation ticket fines, Farnworth is also directing ICBC, which collects ticket fines on behalf of government, to send deemed-guilty offenders immediately to collections.

Currently, payment reminders may be sent to guilty offenders for up to a year before the overdue account is sent to collections. ICBC will now eliminate this reminder period and instead send unpaid files directly to collections as soon as the initial 30-day payment or dispute period ends, or an offender is found guilty in court.

Additionally, the Province has asked WorkSafeBC to enhance its inspection presence in workplaces by reducing reliance on virtual checks and move to more in-person inspections, particularly in sectors where COVID-19 transmission is occurring.

WorkSafeBC is part of the process:

“From the start of the pandemic, WorkSafeBC officers have been doing an admirable job conducting inspections and enforcing compliance with the requirement to have a COVID-19 safety plan,” said Harry Bains, Minister of Labour.

“Increasing in-person inspections in sectors of particular concern will help prevent future outbreaks and aligns with our coordinated approach to COVID-19 enforcement. Our government is firmly committed to keeping people safe at work,” said Bains in today’s release.

Harry Bains, Labour Minister, August 2020
BC Labour Minister Harry Bains at teleconference in Victoria August 13, 2020.

To report non-emergency contraventions of the mask or gathering orders, contact your local government’s bylaw office. Local bylaw officers can help followup on concerns and engage police departments and WorkSafeBC as necessary.

If unable to reach a local bylaw office, contact the local police department’s non-emergency line. Police should be called if someone has become threatening or abusive in response to a request to put on a mask.

About the violation tickets:

Since the pandemic began, police agencies in British Columbia have issued 72 violation tickets to individuals who were in contravention of the Federal Quarantine Act, totalling $78,500. The purpose of the Quarantine Act is to protect public health by taking comprehensive measures to prevent the introduction and spread of communicable diseases.

* Violation tickets expand the Province’s compliance and enforcement toolkit to support the COVID-19 response. Police and other provincial compliance and enforcement officers independently exercise discretion to issue tickets for Emergency Program Act order violations under the Offence Act’s Violation Ticket Administration and Fines Regulation.

  • If violation tickets do not act as a deterrent, or in cases of particularly egregious contraventions or for repeat offenders, police can recommend charges in relation to the offence. Under this process, courts can impose additional penalties including fines and jail time.
  • Between Aug. 21 and Dec. 14, 2020, 290 violation tickets were issued, including:
    • 45 tickets at $2,300 to owners or organizers contravening the provincial health officer’s (PHO) order on gatherings and events;
    • 21 violation tickets at $2,300 for contravention of the PHO Food and Liquor Serving Premises Order; and
    • 224 tickets at $230 issued to individuals who refused to comply with direction from law enforcement.

===== Links on COVID information:

For information on the latest PHO’s orders and guidance, non-medical issues like travel recommendations and how to manage social isolation, visit: www.gov.bc.ca/COVID-19

For more information and latest medical updates on COVID-19, follow the BC Centre for Disease Control on Twitter @CDCofBC
Or visit its website: http://www.bccdc.ca