By Fran Yanor / Legislative Reporter

The Province is authorizing conservation officers, liquor and cannabis inspectors, and others, to “crack down on rule breakers” and help police enforce COVID-19 public health orders throughout the province, announced Premier John Horgan this week.

“There are those who are not prepared to bend a little bit in their personal lives to the benefit of all of us collectively,” Horgan said on Dec. 15. “Consequently, we’re going to be beefing up enforcement on public health orders over the next couple of weeks.”

Workplace safety inspectors, community safety investigators, and others in positions of standards’ compliance, will now be called upon to enforce public health rules and orders as part of their job.

“Anywhere where you have an authority over citizens, we’re going to ask you to be working with law enforcement to ensure that our public health orders are in place and being acted upon,” Horgan said.

These additional ‘enforcement agencies’ have been directed to actively assist police in enforcing COVID-19 rules and orders as they come across violations in the course of their duties, and in public places, said the Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth in a briefing on Dec. 16. “That will be additional support for the police in terms of doing their job.”

WorkSafe BC has also been instructed to step up in-person inspections, focusing on sectors with high virus transmission rates.

British Columbians can also expect an uptick in fines.

So far, since late summer, almost 300 fines have been levied to British Columbians, said Farnworth.

Of those, 224 tickets were issued to individuals who would not comply with law enforcement, 45 tickets were given to owners or organizers of gatherings against public health orders, and 21″  tickets were for violations of the Food and Liquor Serving Premises Order. An additional 72 tickets were given to people who broke quarantine orders, according to the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General.

Once issued a ticket, individuals have 30 days to appeal. After 30 days, unpaid tickets will go directly to collections. Repeat offenders can be ticketed again. In the rare cases of particularly flagrant behaviour or repeated violations of orders, police can recommend charges that may result in additional penalties, fines or jail time.

“This is serious; this is not a lark; this is not something we do lightly,” Horgan said. “If you’re not prepared to follow the rules, if you’re going to look for loopholes, there’ll be consequences for that.”

After weeks of public health orders restricting social interactions to immediate households only, B.C.’s new cases have finally flatlined. To keep the trend going and dip the numbers into decline, public health orders have been extended through Christmas and into the new year until Jan. 8.

“We’re hopeful if we continue to abide by public health orders over the weeks ahead, getting through the Christmas season, we’ll be in a much better position come January when we all turn the page on this tragic year,” said Horgan, “and start focusing with hope and optimism on a better future in 2021.”

To get to that better future, he said every British Columbian possible should get vaccinated when it’s available to them, and people need to adhere to several simple, now well-known, rules: Keep your distance from other people. Keep your bubbles very tight over the holiday season. Don’t interact with people you normally don’t interact with. And, if you’re in a public place, wear a mask, Horgan said.

“I want you to have a great holiday season,” said Horgan. “But I also want you to be safe and I want you to recognize and understand that your actions can not just save your family members, but they could save other people’s family members as well.”

Fran Yanor / Local Journalism Initiative / [email protected]