By Laura Keil

BC’s Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General has issued a new order using the extraordinary powers of the Emergency Program Act to prohibit non-essential travel between three regional zones in the province, using health authority boundaries, on the advice of Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s provincial health officer (PHO). The regional zones are:

1. Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley (Fraser Health and Coastal Health regions);

2. Vancouver Island (Island Health region); and

3. Northern/Interior (Interior Health and Northern Health regions).

The province says while the order puts legal limits only on travel between regional zones, the PHO’s guidance remains unchanged throughout B.C.: everyone should continue to stay within their local community – essential travel only.

This order will be in effect from April 23 through May 25, 2021 (after the May long weekend), and it applies to everyone in the province, including non-essential travellers from outside the province.

“The new variant strains are infecting more people and resulting in record levels of hospitalizations that place a growing strain on the front-line health workers who have been here for us throughout this pandemic,” BC’s Minister of Public Safety Mike Farnworth said. “To help protect them and our communities, we must do more to discourage travel and begin to enforce restrictions on non-essential travel.”

This order applies to non-essential travel. Permissible travel includes attending school or work, the commercial transportation of goods, returning to a principal residence, accessing child care, obtaining health care or assisting someone to receive health care (A full list of essential travel examples follows below)

“Community transmission and COVID-19 cases – including variants of concern – have increased in our health authorities, with many cases being linked to non-essential travel within B.C.,” Henry said. “I am calling on everyone to stay in their local communities and support these travel restrictions to stop the most dangerous travel across regional zones to control the spread of COVID-19 and support our front-line health-care workers.”

To help ensure this travel restriction is effective, the Province is also working with the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure – on highway signage and increasing signage along the border with Alberta; BC Ferries – to restrict non-essential vehicle passage, deter non-essential bookings and limit sailings; tourism and accommodation industry association leaders – to strongly encourage all operators/businesses to support the order by declining new bookings from outside their regional zones and cancelling existing bookings from outside their regional zones; BC Parks – to inform the public about restrictions and refund bookings where necessary; and police departments – on establishing enforcement measures in the coming days.

The Province says in the coming days it will work with police to establish periodic road checks at key travel corridors during times associated with leisure travel to remind travellers of the order.

Police will not engage in random checks, and enforcement measures will be informed by discussions with stakeholders on limiting the impacts to racialized communities. These road checks will be set up near ferry terminals and on highway corridors that connect different regions of the province.

If compliance measures are deemed necessary by police, fines can be handed out. At the discretion of police, a contravention of this Emergency Program Act travel order may be subject to a $575 fine.

The measures are effective immediately.

The measures are enacted under the provincial state of emergency, using the extraordinary powers of the Emergency Program Act. The Province says the act allows the minister “to implement all procedures the minister considers necessary to prevent, respond to or alleviate the effects of an emergency, including controlling or prohibiting travel to or from any area of British Columbia.”

This order does not apply to:

* carrying out a work-related purpose, including volunteer work;

* moving to a different principal residence or assisting a person to move for that purpose;

* commercially transporting goods;

* receiving health-care services or social services or assisting someone to receive those services;

* attending court;

* complying with a court order;

* spending parenting time with a minor child;

* accessing child care;

* attending classes or receiving training at a post-secondary institution or school;

* responding to an emergency or a critical incident, including incidents that involve search and rescue operations;

* providing care or assistance to a person who requires care or assistance because of a psychological, behavioural or health condition; or a physical, cognitive or mental impairment.

* visiting by an essential visitor as provided in the guidance of the Ministry of Health set out in a document titled Ministry of Health – Overview of Visitors in Long-Term Care and Seniors’ Assisted Living that was in effect on April 1, 2021;

* attending a funeral service;

* travelling under the authority of a variance of an order issued by the provincial health officer under the Public Health Act if the variance was made before this section comes into force;

* travelling by residents of the local health areas of Bella Coola Valley or Central Coast to Port Hardy to obtain essential goods and supplies;

* travelling by residents of the local health area of Hope to Chilliwack to obtain essential goods and supplies;

* travelling by residents of the Nisga’a Health Authority region into the Northern-Interior Health Authority region; and/or

* returning to one’s own principal residence.