The new vaccine “passport” requirement has been in place at some businesses for almost a week now, but it’s still unclear who is going to enforce the B.C. government mandate.
Premier John Horgan said staff at venues or businesses could call police if patrons refuse to show their vaccine cards, but both business owners and the police union have expressed concerns.
A so-called “enforcement team” of police, liquor inspectors and municipal bylaw officers are being touted by the government as the ones who will ensure the public health order (PHO) is being respected.
Depending on the violation, fines can range between $230 to $575 for individuals and $2,300 for event organizers or owners/operators of the locations where the event is being held.
The Richmond News reached out to the B.C. Ministry of Health, Vancouver Coastal Health, Richmond RCMP and the City of Richmond to gauge their appetite and ability to enforce the new vaccine passport rule.
Ministry of Health short on enforcement answers
Vancouver Coastal Health, when asked about enforcement of the vaccine card, passed all questions to the Ministry of Health.
A spokesperson for the ministry told the News said that non-emergency contraventions of the PHO will be “communicated through local government bylaw offices to follow up on concerns and engage police departments, WorkSafeBC and other authorities as needed.”
The ministry stated that, outside of office hours, reports for PHO violations could be directed to police non-emergency lines.
“…as always, police should continue to be called in circumstances where there are risks to public safety such as aggressive behaviour and/or threats of violence,” the spokesperson added.
The ministry wouldn’t say if the “enforcement team” would be carrying out random checks or only when complaints are made.
And it wasn’t able to answer what powers officers have to ask a customer in a restaurant, for example, to prove they have been vaccinated against COVID-19.
RCMP ready to respond, hoping not to be called
Richmond RCMP said it fully expects to be “called upon to assist with enforcement under the Provincial Health Act, as can a number of other regulatory agencies, inspectors and law enforcement partners.”
The RCMP then pointed to the BC Public Health Act, which “outlines a number of powers and authorities, and the PHO can request assistance of a peace officer to enforce an order or carry out an inspection.”
It said it will continue to use a “measured approach when dealing with calls related to COVID-19 non-compliance.
“Each call will be assessed on a case-by-case basis, and police response will be prioritized based on the risk to public safety, the seriousness of alleged offence and other ongoing demands.”
Quite what that response looks like, when Mounties are out on the streets carrying out more pressing duties, remains to be seen.
“We ask that people respect that business owners and managers are doing their best to make it through the pandemic, as are the rest of us,” continued the spokesperson for Richmond RCMP.
“Ultimately, we are hopeful that enforcement will not be required and that voluntary compliance and cooperation will be norm.”
City bylaw officer inspections will be complaint-based
As has been the case with previous PHOs during the pandemic, the enforcement buck seems to stop with municipal bylaw officers.
The City of Richmond, for instance, told the News that, from a bylaws perspective, its strategy will be largely complaints-based as there are “numerous challenges associated with random checks of whether or not a business is complying with only admitting patrons with proof of vaccination,” according to spokesperson Clay Adams.
“For example, officers would need to view the vaccine card for everyone in the location to confirm adherence, which is time consuming and likely unnecessary unless a complaint has been made.”
Adams said bylaw officers “will definitely respond to complaints of businesses allegedly not complying and work to educate and inform them of their responsibilities and implications of non-adherence.”
Adams pointed out that the city issues business licences and, for a business to keep that licence in good standing, it must comply with all municipal and provincial requirements.
“One of those is adherence to proof of vaccination for some businesses. Should a business refuse or fail to follow the health order by not asking for proof of vaccination, that business could be considered in non-compliance and risk losing its licence to operate.
“Anyone who observes a business failing to check for proof of vaccination if required should contact City Bylaws who will follow up.
“Individual behaviour, such as a customer or patron refusing to show proof of vaccination and becoming belligerent, aggressive or refusing to leave when asked, should be reported to the RCMP non-emergency line as appropriate.”
The requirement for showing proof of vaccination is limited through to Jan. 31, 2022, subject to possible extension.
Right now, people only need to show proof of a single vaccination.
After Oct. 24, those aged 12 and up will need to be fully vaccinated at least seven days earlier, and only children below that age will be exempt from entering establishments if they are with adults who have been fully vaccinated.
Where you need to show your card:
Indoor ticketed sporting events
Indoor concerts, theatre, dance and symphony events
Licensed restaurants and restaurants that offer table service (indoor and patio dining)
Pubs, bars and lounges (indoor and patio dining)
Nightclubs, casinos and movie theatres
Gyms, exercise facilities/studios and recreation facilities
Businesses offering indoor group exercise
Indoor adult group and team sports for people 19 years old or older
Indoor organized events with 50 or more people. For example: Wedding receptions, organized parties, conferences and workshops
Indoor organized group recreational classes and activities like pottery, art and choir
Post-secondary on-campus student housing
Where you don’t:
Grocery stores, liquor stores and pharmacies
Unlicensed restaurants that don’t offer table service, like fast food, coffee shops and takeout
Local public transportation (BC Transit, TransLink, BC Ferries)
Salons, hairdressers, barbers
Hotels, resorts, pools, cabins and campsites
Unless it is a setting or event covered by the PHO order. For example a licensed hotel restaurant, wedding reception or conference
Banks and credit unions
Retail and clothing stores
Food banks and shelters
Escape rooms, laser tag, indoor paint ball, arcades and bowling alleys (if they are unlicensed or don’t offer table service)
Post-secondary on-campus cafeterias
Indoor youth recreational sport for people 19 years old or younger
Before and after school programs for K to 12 students
Student events and activities in K to 12 public and independent schools
Indoor organized events with less than 50 people, except adult sport
To vote on Sept. 20 in the federal election
How to get your card:
If you don’t have the BC Services Card app you can sign up through the Health Gateway portal, or through the government’s website. All you need is your date of birth, personal health number, and the date of your vaccination.
Another option is to call the Provincial Vaccine Line at 1-833-838-2323 to get your printed card mailed to you. The province urges callers to be patient, as they are expecting high volumes.