The City of Surrey has created a joint COVID-19 Compliance Support Team.
The team, consisting of bylaw services and Surrey RCMP, is meant to respond to public complaints received “where individuals are not respecting social distancing practicing and the instructions and/or recommendations” provided by Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.
According to a release from the city, the team will “disperse gatherings of more than 50 people through education, however, municipal fines or other penalties may be enforced against non compliant persons or businesses.”
The city has not disclosed how much those fines will be.
“We want to emphasize that these are orders from the provincial health officer,” explained Constable Richard Wright, “they have to be followed and we want to make sure everyone is educated, that they have an awareness of these orders and that we want to have people voluntarily comply with these orders. We don’t want to take any enforcement action and we want to make sure that people have what they need, the information they need to make the choices they need to keep everyone safe at this time.”
Asked if there are plans to take a firmer stance in the future, such as charges or fines if people don’t comply, Wright said, “These are early days. These are days when we want to work with the community to make sure they have the information they need to make good choices and we’ll continue that until and undetermined point in the future.”
As for going out to calls, he said the RCMP is taking precaution if officers do go out to calls.
“Whenever anyone’s out in the community, there is a possibility,” said Wright, referring to coming into contact with someone with COVID-19.
“Our call takers are vetting calls to ask particular questions about whether anybody present or anyone appears to be sick, and they have a diagnosis or anything like that,” he said. “That helps to inform our officers when they attend calls for service, and any calls for service, whether they need to don any personal protective equipment and we have personal protective equipment for any frontline member.”
The Surrey RCMP has temporarily closed its front-counter service at the Cloverdale and South Surrey district offices.
The team’s primary focus is on: businesses, banquet halls and faith-based locations; large gatherings at any place of (private business); large gatherings on residential properties; and playgrounds and gatherings of more than 50 people on any city-owned property.
For those who would like to report a violation of the public health order, can contact the Surrey Bylaw Call Centre at 604-591-4370 or the Surrey RCMP non-emergency line at 604-599-0502 for after hours and weekends.
Wright said that prior to the joint team, Surrey RCMP “certainly received a lot of attention from things that have been happening, and certainly, we’ve seen the public gatherings that were happening a week or so ago,” said Wright.
The Now-Leader received several calls and emails about the lack of social distancing within the City of Surrey in the last couple of weeks, with some people witnessing a “full-blown” soccer game at a Surrey park, a party in a residential neighbourhood and alleged wedding celebrations at a Surrey business centre and a home.
On Thursday, Minister of Public Safety Mike Farnworth issued a series of ministerial orders Thursday morning (March 26) as part of his powers under the Emergency Program Act. A release from the ministry says it’s “to ensure a co-ordinated reponse to COVID-19 across all levels of government for the duration of the provincial emergency.”
Those ministerial orders include bylaw enforcement that would enable “municipal bylaw officers to support enforcement of the provincial health officer’s orders for business closures and gatherings, in line with offences under the Public Health Act.”