Delta police and bylaw enforcement officers can now issue tickets to those who aren’t respecting park closures or provincial orders to practice social distancing.
At a special meeting on Friday, March 27, Delta council unanimously approved 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.
“The rules around gatherings, restaurant operators, and physical distancing have been made clear by our provincial health officer and these are critical steps we must take to keep our communities safe,” Mayor George Harvie said in a press release. “These additional enforcement measures will assist Delta in supporting the province and in dealing with those who continue to refuse to comply. I am pleading with everybody to stay home to protect public health and help save lives.”
To date, the City of 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, in an effort to fight the spread of COVID-19.
The Delta School District has done the same, closing all playgrounds, sport fields and hard-court areas, as well as removing equipment such as basketball hoops, and Metro Vancouver has closed the parking lots at Boundary Bay Regional Park, Deas Island Regional Park and Delta Heritage Airport and park facilities such as playgrounds, docks, rental facilities and picnic areas are closed.
Both city and regional parks in Delta remain otherwise open, at least for the time being.
However, there are those in Delta who either aren’t getting the message, or are choosing to ignore the closures, with some people even going so far as resorting to vandalism to access their preferred facilities.
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, within days 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.
At a special meeting of council on Wednesday, March 25, Delta’s manager of property use and compliance, Hugh Davies, told council his department had 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.
“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 special 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.”
On Thursday, March 26, B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth announced a slate of new measures under the provincial state of emergency aimed at co-ordinating pandemic responses province-wide, including suspending local states of emergency and enabling municipal bylaw officers to enforce the provincial health officer’s orders relating to business closures and limiting gatherings, including issuing fines of up to $25,000 or jailing offenders. The City of Delta had been under a local state of emergency since March 19.
Mayor Harvie, during a virtual townhall later that morning, said the province’s move strengthens the city’s ability to enforce the measures taken by the province and orders from Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry to address the ongoing pandemic.
“Any time you’re acting under a provincial regulation versus a local government regulation, there is strength in that,” Harvie said.
“[Our local state of emergency] we always thought would be temporary, but we wanted to get out there and do things very quickly, unlike some of the other cities who have moved a little too slow in my opinion.”
Delta North MLA Ravi Kahlon said the measures enacted by the province on Thursday were in part to ensure that other B.C. communities are doing the things the City of Delta is already doing.
“We’re fortunate here in Delta that [Mayor Harvie] and team took action on enacting the orders that were gave by the health officials in this province,” Kahlon said during the virtual townhall.
“Delta was taking action, but we didn’t see that across the board, across the province, as some communities were a little slower to take up on this action. So it’s not a reflection on what, say, Delta was doing; it’s more of a reflection on wanting to ensure that every part of this province, every city council, every municipality, has now the tools from a provincial lens to be able to take action.”
At Friday’s special council meeting, Marcy Sangret, Delta’s director of community planning and development, said the bylaw amendments were written so as to comply with the new provincial orders issued Thursday morning.
“In the provincial order, as it relates to bylaw enforcement officers, it gives a number of areas where bylaw enforcement officers are to provide assistance in enforcing the provincial order. However, it does say that in providing assistance, bylaw enforcement officers are not authorized to detain people or issue a fine or penalty under the Public Health Act,” Sangret told council.
“One of the reasons we are bringing forward this particular bylaw is to be able to issue fines and penalties under our municipal ticketing authority. And so we believe that we can carry on with this bylaw, we believe that it sends the correct message to the community that the City of Delta is serious about helping the province in enforcing their orders.”
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.