RCMP officers will be taking what’s called a “measured approach” to enforcing provincial health and other orders relating to controlling the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The RCMP’s focus remains on educating and encouraging members of the public who may not be following the safety measures set out by public health authorities. Enforcement is typically seen as a last resort, but one that can be used if the circumstances warrant,” says RCMP Corporal Madonna Saunderson who handles public relations for the force’s smaller detachments in the north.
New sweeping orders came into effect Nov. 19, including the mandatory wearing of masks in indoor public spaces, including retail outlets.
“Police officers can use discretion when enforcing various statutes, and RCMP officers have the ability to use a measured approach when dealing with COVID-19 related situations,” said Saunderson.
Anyone without a mask in an indoor public place or who refuses to comply with the direction of an enforcement officer, including the direction to leave the space, may be subject to a $230 fine.
Under the current provincial laws, local bylaw officers, police and other provincial compliance enforcement officers have the power to issue this fine. If violation tickets don’t act as a deterrent against a repeat offender, police can also recommend charges to Crown.
The issue of wearing masks came into focus two weeks ago when a Smithers resident was arrested and then cautioned when he refused to wear a mask inside the Bulkley Valley Credit Union in Smithers Nov. 20, the day after the mandatory mask order was put in place.
Randy Bell was quickly released and told by officers to educate himself on the wearing of masks.
Under the Emergency Program Act, officers can also fine people who organize large, unsafe gatherings or ignore provincial health orders relating to mass gatherings and events.
Saunderson did note that businesses now have the responsibility to ask their customers and patrons to wear face coverings or non-medical masks while on premises and to refuse service for non-compliance.
“Individuals have the right not to attend the business if they decide not to wear a protective mask to help prevent the spread COVID-19. We highly encourage everyone to respect provincial health orders for their safety and the safety of others,” she said.
People who cannot put on or remove a mask on their own are exempt. Masks for children under the age of 2 is not recommended.
Restaurants, pubs and bars can continue to operate if they have a COVID-19 Safety Plan and employee protocols in place.
There is a maximum of six people at a table and no moving between tables is permitted.