A B.C. human rights group says that throwing out the threat of travel restrictions without concrete details is “very scary.”
Premier John Horgan announced plans for travel restrictions between the province’s regions Monday (April 19) but offered few details about how they would be enforced and what areas they would apply to.
Since then, the premier and his public safety minister have made differing statements on how the policy would be enforced, but all have involved the use of police.
Meghan McDermott, interim policy director at the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, said that the travel restrictions will become another infringement on the rights of the province’s residents.
“And (it) adds to the stress of our time – and we’re already very stressed,” McDermott said.
Part of what’s frightening, she added, is the lack of details coupled with the enforcement being carried out by police.
“I know that the government has now tried to placate some fears by saying, ‘oh, no, it won’t be that random,’ and that they won’t just discriminate as, they tend to do just kind of operating in law enforcement in general, because we’re going to set up like counter attack, so it’ll be at these main arteries,” McDermott said. “But even with that approach, as soon as you involve police officers, they have discretion under our laws to to enforce criminal laws, any provincial offences and bylaws.”
Police themselves have come out in opposition to the new rules. In a statement, Brian Sauvé, president of the National Police Federation, said that his organization has heard “loud and clear” opposition to the incoming order from RCMP officers.
“In addition to shouldering an already heavy and increasing workload, participating in enforcement ‘roadblocks’ puts even greater pressure on limited resources and puts our members at further risk of exposure and possible infection,” Sauvé said.
“Equally important, we are continuing to enhance and build on our relationships with vulnerable and racialized communities, and the ambiguity and potentially negative impacts of these orders risk reversing this progress.”
McDermott agrees. The BCCLA has been advocating against police stops and random street checks for years.
“We are plugged into these communities and know just about how harmful to the relations and public trust it is to have police being able to enforce public health measures,” she said. “We just don’t think the police really should be involved with that.”
She cited the difference in police enforcement when it comes to anti-mask rallies, which are allowed to proceed, compared to RCMP shutting down rallies in support of Indian farmers.
“That disproportionate or discriminatory police action being taken against racialized communities is certainly being magnified by the COVID-19 pandemic and I would expect the exact same patterns of discrimination to occur under this order,” McDermott said.
While McDermott said she’s happy to see the government say they’re consulting with BIPOC (Black and Indigenous People of Colour) communities, she said that work should have been done ahead of announcing new travel rules – which could have been replaced by measures that did more to stem the rise in COVID-19 infections.
“I think the government could work better with communities, in terms of sharing the information that they have, sharing what some of their ideas are, about where the risks are, and how to mitigate those risks, and then work with communities on the ground to figure that out, instead of this kind of top down approach or secretive approach,” she said.
“B.C. is really not sharing a lot of information to other provinces, it’s really hard for people in B.C. to even know where the where the infections are, and how they’re being transmitted.”