Not practicing social distancing in Delta? It could soon set you back hundreds of dollars.
At a special meeting on Wednesday, March 25, Delta council unanimously gave first, second and third reading to amendments to the city’s Emergency Program Bylaw which would enable police and bylaw enforcement officers to ticket and fine anyone who isn’t adhering to orders issued by the Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry relating to the COVID-19 pandemic.
To date, Henry has ordered restaurants province-wide to close their doors to dine-in guests and instead operate only through takeout or delivery services, banned bars and nightclubs from operating, banned gatherings of more than 50 people, and ordered individuals to practice social distancing (keeping at least two metres away from others).
Under the amended bylaw, acting contrary to an order, failing to carry out or comply with an order, or interfering with or obstructing any authorized person in carrying out their duties will carry a fine of between $500 and $1,000 per offence.
Delta’s manager of property use and compliance, Hugh Davies, told council on Wednesday his department has received numerous complaints — 24 in the last 24 hours alone — about people gathering, not adhering to social distancing, and not self-isolating as required for 14 days after coming back from holidays.
“We’re put in a bit of a position where we need to take enforcement action but we don’t have necessarily … a ticket we can issue,” Davies told council.
He said large numbers of people gathering at parks —despite closures by the city and by Metro Vancouver — is cause for concern.
“Today at Deas Island Park the gates were closed by regional staff, and yet parked outside of the park were dozens and dozens of vehicles. The same can be said for [Boundary Bay Regional Park], where vehicles were parked all the way down Boundary Bay Road and also in the Centennial Beach area,” Davies said.
On Saturday, March 21, the city closed the stairs at Fred Gingell Park due to the high volume of people using them (and thus not keeping the recommended two metres/six feet apart), however by Wednesday, Davies said, someone had cut the lock and opened the gate, and the stairs were back in use despite there being signs advising visitors the stairs were closed.
“I can see the continuing frustration of all of us, as mayor and council members and staff. When we lock a gate, we don’t lock it without good reason, and it was because of the overcrowding,” Mayor George Harvie said at Wednesday’s council meeting.
“We’re at a critical time here and people need to get this, they need to practice separation. They need to stay away from the popular areas, and they need to walk around [their] neighbourhood — that’s what we’ve been doing, with proper separation. Walk your neighbourhood, don’t drive to a popular spot in Delta. This is so critical right now.”
Harvie said enforcement will focus on people who “absolutely refuse to co-operate and to heed the signs and the closures.”
“We are not intending to go out there and initiate $500 fines every time we find somebody that’s not co-operating. But we will when they break down and cut locks that we put on facilities we’re trying to restrict. Again, we’re at a critical time and it’s essential that the Delta people, and other people in the Lower Mainland, realize it’s now that we need their co-operation, it’s now that we need them to be on the team, that we’re trying to fight this deadly disease.”
Coun Lois Jackson expressed concern that the city would be taking a “soft” approach when it comes to issuing fines, and that it would not be enough to dissuade those who aren’t already adhering to the closures or practicing social distancing.
“People are going to do what they may not be supposed to do, and I think we have to use the hammer as opposed to the feather,” Jackson said at council. “Even though there are people that are at the worst end of the scale, cutting the chains or cutting the lock, there are still other people that are not abiding by the rules.
“I think that is going to have to be looked at very seriously and I think we have to take action on that quickly so people get the idea that we’re not going to tolerate this. We cannot — it means life and death to many people.”
Harvie said the fact the amendments were before council shows the city will not be going “soft” on anyone.
“We did not go soft on the yoga operator that was operating illegally and refusing to adhere to our request to close,” Harvie said, referring to Delta bylaw inspectors suspending the business licence of Bikram Yoga Delta on March 19 after the owner refused to voluntarily cancel classes in light of the ongoing novel coronavirus outbreak.
READ MORE: Delta suspends business licence of studio claiming hot yoga kills COVID-19 (March 20, 2020)
SEE ALSO: COVID-19 precautions ‘not optional,’ B.C.’s Dr. Bonnie Henry warns (March 20, 2020)
“So again, we are not going ‘soft,’ but we will try to ensure that everybody knows that if they don’t co-operate, they are going to get a fine.”
Council will vote on giving the bylaw amendments fourth reading and final adoption at another special council meeting on Friday, March 27. The meeting will begin at 4 p.m. and will be streamed live at delta.ca/watchlive.
The City of Delta is currently under a state of local emergency, which gives mayor and council additional powers to respond to direction that comes from the province and as a result of the city’s daily COVID-19 planning sessions.
So far, Delta has closed all recreation centres, community centres, ice arenas, swimming pools, art centres, senior centres, skate parks, bike parks, playground equipment (including those on school grounds and in Metro Vancouver-operated parks), sport courts (including basketball and tennis courts), artificial turf fields, picnic shelters and golf courses, as well as city hall, the Delta Archives, the Delta Nature Reserve boardwalk and the stairs at Fred Gingell Park in Tsawwassen.
City parks remain otherwise open for the time being.
Metro Vancouver has also closed the parking lots at Boundary Bay Regional Park, Deas Island Regional Park and Delta Heritage Airport. The parks remain open to the public for now, but park facilities such as playgrounds, docks, rental facilities and picnic areas are closed.
The City of Delta has suspended seniors bus services, cancelled all spring break programs and all non-essential events, including the Delta Triathlon, Spring Clean-Up and free compost week.
On Friday, March 20, Mayor Harvie, acting under the local state of emergency, mandated local stores set aside time every day for seniors and others who are the most vulnerable to COVID-19 to shop separate from from the general public, and take steps to discourage overbuying of all goods and limit the quantity of “key items” that a single person may purchase in one day.
At a special meeting of council that same day, mayor and council unanimously gave three readings to a new bylaw enabling the City of Delta to defer the late payment penalty deadline for 2020 flat rate utility bills until June 1, 2020. Council unanimous gave the bylaw fourth reading and final adoption at another special meeting Monday afternoon (March 23).
Harvie also directed city staff to continue to seek opportunities within Delta’s jurisdiction to ease the financial burden for residents and businesses.
“We recognize the financial burden being faced by our residents and businesses at this time. This bylaw will help provide some relief for many in our community,” Harvie said in a press release. “We will continue to seek similar opportunities in the days and weeks ahead.”
For more information about the city’s response to COVID-19 and its impact to city programs, services and events — plus precautions to take to lessen the chance of contracting the virus as well as links to the Fraser Health, Health Canada, HealthLink BC and BC Centre for Disease Control websites — visit delta.ca/coronavirus.