Enforcing public health orders related to COVID-19 is a new development for modern RCMP since the pandemic began in March 2020, and in Whistler at least, issuing violation tickets for contravening event gatherings has become a weekly occurrence for local police.
“It was quite frequent, especially on the weekends,” said Whistler RCMP Cpl. Nate Miller. “I would compare it to when we would respond to noise bylaw complaints on the weekend. It took the place of that. That amount of calls for service kind of translated into public health order calls for us.”
Between October 2020 and March 2021, local police issued a total of $69,940 in COVID-19-related fines, including for gatherings, and while Miller did not have more up-to-date figures at hand, he said, generally speaking, Mounties average between two to four violation tickets a week for contravening orders against gatherings.
Earlier in the pandemic, Miller said police primarily issued tickets at nightly rental properties where it was determined people were gathering from multiple different households. Then, as restrictions relaxed in Phase 3 of B.C.’s COVID recovery plan, “we saw the bigger crowds with outdoor gatherings and that kind of stuff,” although he noted that larger events have not been a significant issue so far.
“The majority of the ones we came across were nightly rentals where it was obvious that all five occupants were from different residences, per se,” he added.
Several of those tickets have made their way to court recently, according to court records. In the past month, seven different cases have appeared in North Vancouver Provincial Court, for either hosting or organizing a non-compliant gathering or issuing a permit for one. However, in four of those cases, the charges were ultimately dropped. (The RCMP declined to comment on any of the specific tickets issued and the court records do not detail the court’s findings.)
Violation tickets of $2,300 can be issued to owners, operators and event organizers who host a non-compliant event, while individuals can be fined $575 for attending a non-compliant event or encouraging others to do so.
In April, Whistler RCMP declined to break up a house party of about 30 people over concern for officers’ safety. Miller said it is difficult at times for members to maintain the proper health protocols given the nature of their duties.
“We have a duty to ensure public safety but we also have to ensure our members are safe at the same time,” he explained. “The pandemic definitely had some challenges with that and we’re obviously concerned with our own safety because with our line of work we can’t work in a controlled environment. Even though we would wear our [personal protective equipment], there are often times where that might come off ... or we might have to be extremely close to someone to facilitate an arrest.”