‘We are empowered to deny travel’: Industries and police agencies react to new B.C. travel order

British Columbians will soon face new questions when they arrive at ferry terminals.

“There are six routes affected,” said Mark Collins, president and CEO of BC Ferries. “Duke point, Nanaimo and Victoria, as well as the route from Tsawwassen to the Southern Gulf Islands, the route that connects Comox to Powell river, and the route that connects Port Hardy to Prince Rupert.”

He said travellers on those routes will be subject to questions about why they’re travelling to ensure it’s an essential reason as outlined by the government’s travel order.

“We have managers and supervisors on hand to help work with any special cases,” said Collins. “We are empowered to deny travel.”

As of Friday afternoon, Collins did not know of anyone who had been turned away for failing to meet the essential travel requirement.

BC Ferries staff implemented the new screening as soon as Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth announced the new restrictions Friday morning.

“I’m restricting non-essential travel into or out of all health authorities in British Columbia effective immediate,” said Farnworth. “This order will remain in place until after the May long weekend, specifically May 25.”

The province has been split into three regions, with Vancouver Coastal Health and Fraser Health making up one. This region includes the Sunshine Coast, because it’s part of Vancouver Coastal Health.

“Travelling to the Sunshine Coast from Vancouver has no new restrictions under this order,” said Collins.

This, despite the fact that the region is a popular holiday destination that can only be reached from the Lower Mainland by ferry. Collins said any changes to travel rules for the Sunshine Coast would have to come from the province.

There are not going to be any additional sailings added over the May long weekend this year, unlike in normal years, Collins said. Anyone turned away for their travel being deemed non-essential will be reimbursed if they had a reservation, he added.

This entire system is based on the honour system. Collins said staff will not be asking for proof, but expecting British Columbians to tell the truth.

He added there is a zero tolerance for any travellers who become belligerent.

“If necessary, we’ll ban travellers,” Collins said. “And if you’re an islander and you’re banned from travel on the ferry system that’s a fairly significant penalty. So we’re going to be taking that very seriously.”

Unlike ferry staff, those who work in hotels are not going to be enforcing the order, but rather educating customers.

“We are not the enforcers, we are in the hospitality business,” said Ingrid Jarrett, president and CEO of the BC Hotels Association. “We are in the business of saying yes and creating experiences where people are enjoying themselves in a home away from home. This is not about putting our hospitality community in a position where we’re enforcing. We’re educating, we’re encouraging and we’re supporting.”

She said people should book staycations at hotels and resorts in their own communities if they want a change of scenery. Would-be hotel guests may be subject to new questions or see additional information about the travel rules posted on booking websites.

Jarrett also said she hopes accommodation owners will follow the guidelines.

“Our industry is in month 14 of serious losses,” she said. “We’ll lose 30 per cent of all of these small and medium size accommodation businesses if we’re not successful. Our ask to B.C. residents is that they consider if they currently are travelling for non-essential services, to consider whether or not they’re compliant with this order.”

When it comes to short-term rental services like Airbnb, Farnworth said he is still working with the tourism industry.

He said he understands some people rely on short-term rentals for income, but added that “now is not the time to encourage people to come out to British Columbia.”

On Harbour Air’s website under FAQs, there is a question that reads: “I’m REALLY looking forward to visiting Tofino again when it’s safe to do so! When will your seasonal routes resume?” Under that question it lists flights from Downtown Vancouver to Sechelt, Tofino, and Comox that were all set to resume in March, as well as Whistler flights to resume in May.

CTV News reached out to the seaplane company to ask about those flights. In an emailed response, a spokesperson said: “Currently, we are operating at 20 per cent of our normal service and those aircraft are restricted to 60 per cent capacity. As Harbour Air is deemed an essential service flying frontline workers, health-care providers, medical supplies and even the vaccine, we will continue to operate our scheduled service routes by following all provincial guidelines.”

When pressed about those specific destinations, the spokesperson said the company will continue all scheduled service routes at the reduced frequency and capacity and that updates will be coming soon.

Police agencies have been raising concerns about the latest travel rules since the province announced on Monday that they were coming.

“We remain concerned about the safety and ongoing lack of clarity of the province’s proposed police enforcement of its COVID-19-related travel ban within B.C,” said Brian Sauvé, president of the National Police Federation. ”As we said earlier this week, many of our members are opposed to this proposal as it puts them at risk of public backlash, legal ambiguity, and risk of exposure and possible infection due to the continuing slow immunization rollout for police in the province.”

He said the federation welcomes Farnworth’s promise of funding for training resources and equipment, but wants to be included in the ongoing development of the order.

Farnworth said more information would be released next week about the police roadblocks that are a part of the order.  

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