Opinion: Warnings better than roadblocks when it comes to travel restrictions

Warnings over roadblocks

The publicity and warnings about the police enforcement of regional travel bans in B.C. will probably have a lot more impact than the actual checkpoints.

As officials have noted, most people are following the rules, so the enforcement of the new mandatory emergency program order is aimed at a minority that still hasn’t processed the recommendations, guidelines and advisories. Two weeks of consternation about the increased ­stringency has given them plenty of ­warning.

So the actual checkpoints are unlikely to turn into any kind of dragnet roundup of “non-essential travellers.”

And Friday’s description of how they will work suggests they’ll be set up with a light touch. Pulling over and interrogating large numbers of drivers on a major ­highways looked unlikely right from the start. It would have turned into something resembling this week’s pop-up AstraZeneca clinics. (Gridlock.)

As with CounterAttack, the risk of encountering a checkpoint will deter more people than the actual checks.

It will take up a lot of police resources, but they had to follow up the warning with some enforcement.

Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth filled in the details of what was announced last week. With the five health authorities on which the restriction is based now ­configured into three, the checkpoints will be few and far between. There will be none on Vancouver Island. B.C. Ferries staff inquire if a customer’s trip is ­essential and police attend only if required.

Farnworth put much emphasis on one location: Hope, near where the Trans Canada branches into the Coquihalla, the Fraser Canyon and the Hope-Princeton.

The ban on travel among three B.C. regions (Vancouver Island, Lower Mainland, and north and east of Hope) is supposed to last until May 25, although that could depend on the case count.

There are 21 exemptions that describe essential travel. RCMP will be the only police staffing the checkpoints and they will do so on a restricted basis. They can ask just for ID and the reason for travel and can’t engage in arbitrary vehicle or street checks.

Drivers will not have to provide documentation of their ­reason for travel. If police decide a trip is ­non-essential, they will ask the driver to turn around. The fine only applies if there is non-compliance.

There will be advance warning on highways of the road checks. Farnworth pictured it as follows: “You start to see signs there is a road check up ahead, several kilometres before you actually get to the road check. You’ll be able to turn around if you realize ‘maybe my travel’s not that essential.’ ”

The B.C. Liberal Opposition said it puts police in the position of determining whether travel is essential and continues the confusion.

Liberal critic MLA Mike Morris said Premier John Horgan first blurted out the travel ban 11 days ago and “there’s still only confusion.” People travelling for ­medical reasons shouldn’t be stressed about convincing police of their reason, he said. He said it was ridiculous that the Alberta border remains open and that there will be no checkpoints for airline passengers.

Alberta’s case count is currently higher than B.C.’s, but the B.C. government has resisted clamping down on inter-provincial travel, for undisclosed legal reasons. There are advisories, warnings and pleas not to cross, but it’s not mandatory and there won’t be enforcement.

That same regime applies to all travel within health authorities.

Farnworth said only: “The issue of the border is a complicated one.”

Friday was the third announcement of the mandatory travel restrictions.

Premier John Horgan issued the first warning on April 19. He outlined the roadcheck enforcement of the new health order, said B.C. Ferries was going to stop carrying RVs and campers, and discussed how the hotel industry was being asked to stop bookings from out-of-region guests. (Cancelling and refusing hotel bookings is not covered in the actual emergency order; hosts are being asked to do it ­voluntarily.)

Farnworth filled in more details a week ago and again Friday.

Three separate warnings, highway signs saying they’re up ahead, and a year’s worth of discouraging any kind of travel. Anyone who gets caught at one of these checkpoints likely deserves it.

All the tough talk will accomplish at least as much as the checkpoints will. Plus it appeals to everyone observing the rules, which is a large part of why they’re in force.

Les Leyne is a columnist with the Victoria Times Colonist

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