Sarah Leamon: What you need to know about B.C.'s COVID-19 laws to stay out of trouble

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      It’s been nearly a year since a state of emergency was first declared in British Columbia in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, countless public health orders have been made and a number of new provincial laws have been enacted to help keep the virus at bay.

      But with so much changing so quickly, it can be difficult to keep up.

      Here’s what you need to know about the existing laws, as they stand today.

      Mandatory masks

      Masks are now mandatory in public indoor settings. As compared to the rest of Canada, health authorities in British Columbiia delayed somewhat in making this measure mandatory.

      Perhaps one of the reasons for the delay was concern about the inevitable backlash. After all, there has been some vocal opposition to the concept of wearing masks in public spaces. These opponents believe that mandatory masks are a violation of civil liberties, but our lawmakers see thing differently. 

      Now, with more than just differing opinions at stake, anyone who refuses to wear a mask in public indoor spaces can be hit with financial consequences. Offenders will be ticketed and receive a $230 fine for noncompliance.

      There is an exemption to this rule though. Those who are unable to wear a mask for medical reasons are exempt from the mandatory requirement, as are those who cannot remove a mask on their own and children under 12.

      Mandatory mask laws go beyond simply just wearing a mask, though. Individuals can also be ticketed for failing to comply with the direction of a law enforcement officer, including being asked to immediately leave a public space, and for engaging in abusive behaviour in relation to wearing masks in public.

      Public gatherings

      Tickets can be issued to those who attend an event or gathering that is not compliant with public health orders. It is also an offence to be found on a party bus or in a limousine with other occupants. 

      Above and beyond this, though, tickets can also be given to people who encourage others to attend such an event or gathering. The associated fine for all of these offences is $230.  

      Similar to mask laws, refusing to comply with the direction of an enforcement officer, including when asked to leave an event or gathering, can result in a ticket, as can engaging in abusive or belligerent behaviour in relation to this order.  

      Some exceptions to this law includes hosting support group meetings and critical service meetings or other occupational training sessions that cannot be done using virtual technology.  Further exceptions can be made for providing meal services to those in need, so long as it is done without charge.  

      Private gatherings 

      Beyond public spaces, it is now an offence for a person to host an event or gathering in their home. Doing so can result in a ticket that carries a $230 fine.  

      However, like all of these laws, there are a number of exceptions.  

      For example, if a person lives alone, they are legally allowed to have up to two other people in their home for a social purpose, so long as they are in the same social bubble.  

      There are also exceptions to allow for people to be in private residences if they are there for work purposes, providing assistance care or services, tutoring or teaching an occupant or are providing religious services. Emergency responders or for those who are providing an occupant with financial or legal services are exempt. Finally, tasks such as housekeeping, gardening, maintenance, repairs, renovations or moving are permitted and not subject to fines under the existing public health order.

      Bars and restaurants

      Bars and restaurants are subject to a number of COVID-related restrictions and laws at this point.

      One of the most evident changes has been the new order that no longer permits licensed liquor establishments to serve alcohol after 10 p.m. It may surprise you to learn that patrons also bear some responsibility related to this health order.

      Restaurant and bar patrons are no longer allowed to continue drinking alcohol on the premises after 11 p.m. Failure to comply with this order could result in a $230 ticket.

      Patrons are also required to ensure that they remain seated in the bar or restaurant at all times, other than while entering or exiting, going to the washroom, or using a self-serve food station or pay station. They also must ensure that they stay at least two meters apart from one another unless they are in the same party or separated by a physical barrier. Singing and dancing are also prohibited.

      This is by no means an exhaustive list of the public health orders and bylaws that have been passed and are in effect today. However, the scope of these laws demonstrates the severity of the situation.