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B.C. employing ‘extraordinary powers’ to combat COVID-19

Thursday, March 26, 2020 @ 1:36 PM | By Ian Burns


The government of British Columbia is using extraordinary powers under the Emergency Program Act to support the province’s ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“B.C. is in a strong position to effectively respond to and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth. “Informed by the direction of the provincial health officer, we’re taking these critical steps to keep our communities safe, goods moving and essential service workers supported.”

Farnworth is issuing a series of ministerial orders to ensure a co-ordinated response to COVID-19 across all levels of government for the duration of the provincial emergency. These include:
  • Establishing a new provincial Supply Chain Coordination Unit to co-ordinate goods and services distribution; taking a more active role in co-ordinating essential goods and services movement by land, air, marine and rail; and suspending any bylaws that restrict goods delivery at any time of day.
  • Banning the secondary resale of food, medical supplies, personal protective equipment, cleaning and other essential supplies; and restricting quantities of items purchased at point of sale.
  • Enabling municipal bylaw officers to support enforcement of the provincial health officer’s orders for business closures and gatherings, in line with offences under the Public Health Act.
  • Ensuring all passenger and car-ferry services provide minimum service levels and priority access for residents, and essential goods and workers.
  • Making it easier to support critical services for vulnerable people, like food banks and shelters.
  • Suspending local states of emergency specific to the COVID-19 pandemic, except for the city of Vancouver; giving municipal councils the ability to hold more flexible meetings to expedite decisions; and co-ordinating potential use of local publicly owned facilities, like community centres, for self-isolation, testing, medical care, warehousing and distribution.

These unprecedented steps, made based on the recommendation of B.C.’s health and emergency management officials and invoked for the first time under a provincial state of emergency, will support the provincial health officer and minister of Health in a co-ordinated cross-government approach to COVID-19 response and recovery.

“Many local governments, First Nations and partners have stepped up to make sure they have prepared to protect their communities from the impacts of COVID-19,” said Farnworth. “Today’s measures will make sure communities are taking necessary steps, in co-ordination with the province, to get ready should more action be required to combat COVID-19.”

The province, in consultation with B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, has defined essential services British Columbians rely on in their daily lives in the context of COVID-19 response and recovery. This is distinct from essential service designations under the province's Labour Relations Code.

In consultation with the provincial health officer, any business or service that has not been ordered to close, and is also not identified on the essential service list, may stay open if it can adapt its services and workplace to the orders and recommendations of the provincial health officer.

“In these new and challenging times we are facing, we’re asking British Columbians to stay strong as a community, and together we can get through this,” said Minister of Health Adrian Dix. “I’m proud of the strategic measures we have enacted government-wide to help our families and health-care workers, to keep them safe and supported. By issuing a series of ministerial orders, we recognize that this is not forever,but it is for now. With everyone stepping in and respecting the extraordinary means we have to take, we will overcome this.”

Henry declared a public health emergency in B.C. March 17, with Farnworth declaring a provincial state of emergency the following day.