British Columbia provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, left, and B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix pause during a news conference regarding the novel coronavirus COVID-19, in Vancouver, on Saturday, March 14, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)

Our View: Province needs to crack down on COVID-spreading events

Illicit parties and rule-breaking gatherings need to be stopped

When the first reports of spikes in COVID-19 started in B.C. a few weeks ago, the blame was largely placed on private parties.

Too many people, most of them young, were getting together in houses or on boats, not distancing, not wearing masks, and generally ignoring all the advice that let this province get through the early months of the virus with fewer deaths than other jurisdictions.

Now we seem to be in a dangerous new phase – entrepreneurs have decided to make a quick buck from COVID fatigue.

In Surrey last week, a 40-year-old man was arrested and now faces criminal charges after he allegedly ran after-hours clubs in commercial and industrial areas. The RCMP claims he even broke into one of the sites to host the party.

Fraser Health has linked at least one COVID exposure to a hookah lounge the man is believed to have operated.

Meanwhile, we have a party bus headed from Langley into Vancouver with between a dozen and 20 partiers on board, depending on which account you read.

Is it possible to put few enough people on a party bus that you could be within the letter of the law when it comes to distancing and safe bubbles?

Possibly.

Is it within the spirit of the rules that are still keeping us mostly safe?

That is a lot more doubtful.

Unfortunately, public disapproval alone is not going to stop any of this activity.

We are in a delicate place right now. We want to bring back as much of our entertainment, restaurant, and sports economy as we safely can.

Restaurants, bars, nightclubs, and arts venues are hurting badly. Langley’s loss of Gabby’s Country Cabaret is just one closure among many taking place across the country.

But if the choice is between profit and public safety, we always have to come down on the side of safety.

So far, we haven’t seen charges for criminal negligence against anyone organizing illicit or rule-breaking gatherings. That might be a bridge too far for investigators and Crown lawyers – but it shouldn’t be off the table entirely, either.

But empowering WorkSafe BC and local bylaw officers to hand out hefty fines, to shut down sites, and to kick out crowds of people violating distancing guidelines, would have an immediate effect.

Slapping five-figure fines on organizers would emphasize how important it is not to create the conditions for another superspreader event in B.C.

– M.C.

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