Fort St. John bylaw officers empowered to enforce health orders

It's too early to say how Fort St. John will deploy its bylaw officers in the fight against the spread of COVID-19.

But if you're still planning to hold that wedding, or just got back from the tropics and aren't staying at home in quarantine, officers may soon be tracking you down.

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On Thursday the province expanded its state of emergency measures, and gave municipal bylaw officers in B.C. the power to enforce public health orders for large gatherings, business closures, and returning travel. Violations can carry fines up to $25,000 or jail under the Public Health Act.

The new measures also mean Fort St. John’s emergency plan is now in effect, and the city has opened its emergency operations centre. Mayor Lori Ackerman says the centre will manage the new orders from the province.

“I expect that our staff will bring forward a report to council recommending ideas for all of the orders and how we will manage them and all the services being asked of us,” said Mayor Lori Ackerman.

Council has scheduled three extra special council meetings through April to deal with the local issues arising with the pandemic. The first is scheduled for March 30.

“Council has doubled our meetings to ensure decision making is prompt,” Ackerman said.

While bylaw officers are not able to detain any violators or issue fines directly under the Public Health Act, they can issue warnings and report violators to public health officials.

They may also be given new powers to police and fine directly from council. The new measures Thursday give councils the power to quickly pass new bylaws in one sitting instead of two.

The province has also forbidden the resale of food, medical supplies, personal protective equipment and cleaning products under new orders Thursday. Those caught in violation can be fined up to $10,000, jailed for one year, or both.

All city buildings have been closed to the public; city services still continue. 

The city says residents can report problems through its website.

Email reporter Tom Summer at tsummer@ahnfsj.ca

© Copyright Alaska Highway News

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