Surrey Mounties and city bylaws officers on Friday, March 26, will mark the one-year anniversary of the inception of the COVID-19 Compliance and Enforcement Team (CCET), created to address safety and compliance with B.C. provincial health orders in Surrey. So far, it has issued 135 violation tickets under the Emergency Program Act.
Surrey RCMP Corporal Joanie Sidhu, heading into this second year of CCET enforcement, said the “vast majority” of the public abided by B.C.’s public health orders while non-compliance was observed in less than one per cent of the over-all checks in Surrey.
Police won’t reveal how many officers are on the team. “We don’t normally provide the exact number of our resources just for officer safety reasons,” Sidhu explained.
Staff Sergeant Tyner Gillies, NCO-IC of emergency operational planning unit for the Surrey RCMP during the pandemic, runs a crew that works in tandem with the CCET.
He said that prior to the pandemic being declared, the detachment had a sense of what was going on overseas with the coronavirus in February 2020 and had put a plan in place “just in case we happened to get a COVID positive person who is in Surrey.
“And then the world-wide pandemic happened and our lives completely and utterly changed.”
Gilles said the day after the pandemic was declared his team was tasked with securing PPE and cleaning supplies, and put in charge of tracking work-related absences in case the Surrey RCMP needed to redeploy its resources.
“At the bottom line, our mission was to ensure that Surrey detachment had the resources to maintain our core policing responsibilities.”
As good fortune had it, a Surrey constable with a PhD in chemistry and another officer who taught chemistry before joining the police put their scientific know-how to good use to whip-up some in-house hand sanitizer for the detachment straight out of the gate.
“So in between taking a recipe from the World Health Organization, consulting with our resident expert, our PhD in chemistry, we developed our own hand sanitizer and were distributing it to the members within about two days of the pandemic being announced,” Gilles recalled.
Corporal Bob Keay a member of the CCET, said the team concerned itself with checking gatherings at parks, beaches and sports fields at the outset of the pandemic but later focused on ensuring businesses were closed as prescribed under public health orders. Rotating teams, seven days a week, pulled on door handles to make certain businesses were closed.
“It was odd at that time. I remember coming into work and it was like a ghost town. It reminded me so much of when I was a kid, and businesses were closed on Sunday. It was just nobody out there, it was so strange.”
The team has to keep track of public health orders as they change, making sure businesses have plexiglass and safety plans in place, adequate hand sanitizer on hand, and restaurants and bars had no more than six people at any given table. “I think we only hit about less than one per cent of non-compliance of all the businesses that we checked and we’ve gone through the entire list in the city of Surrey, of all the businesses, three times over already just to ensure compliance,” Keay said. “There’s a lot of businesses.”
The CCET developed a grid map to track who was checking what and to make sure there was “fair coverage” of the entire city.
Asked what working with the CCET has taught him, if anything new, about human nature, Keay replied that for the most part, “everybody out there” wants to do the right thing.
“They’re trying the best that they can. We’re humans; obviously it’s natural for people to want to socialize and meet with their friends but at the same time everybody has a responsibility. For the most part, I think people are receptive to what we are doing.
“Having to weigh the balance between constitutional rights and the citizens’ right to protest while maintaining public safety, I mean, that’s a big challenge,” Keay added.
Meantime, Surrey Fire Chief Larry Thomas says his department is in the process of finishing up with screening and recruitment to hire 10 more firefighters to focus on the city centre.
“They’re be starting orientation some time in early May,” he said, “then be available for service at the end of June.”
As for the pandemic, Thomas said, “We’re getting by. I think our crews are doing a good job of staying safe. There hasn’t been any real risks related to patient care and response.
“The one thing that we run into is people will get exposed in their off-duty time to family or somebody, and that causes a bunch of isolations, 14-day isolations, which creates a little bit of pressure on our system,” he said. “I know staff would like to be vaccinated sooner than later; I’m sure that would help relieve some of my pressure with isolations and things like that.”