States of local emergency declared due to COVID-19 — except for those issued by the City of Vancouver and First Nations communities — were suspended on March 26 by ministerial order.
Under B.C.’s Emergency Program Act, Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth suspended the states of local emergency “to ensure a coordinated response to COVID-19 across all levels of government for the duration of the provincial emergency” that was declared on March 18.
“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,” Farnworth said. “Today’s measures will make sure communities are taking necessary steps, in coordination with the province, to get ready should more action be required to combat COVID-19.”
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, Farnworth announced other steps to ensure a coordinated response across all levels of government. Those included giving municipal councils the ability to hold more flexible meetings to expedite decisions, and coordinating potential use of local, publicly-owned facilities, like community centres, for self-isolation, testing, medical care, warehousing, and distribution.
The unprecedented series of ministerial orders also included: suspending any bylaws that restrict goods delivery at any time of day; banning the secondary resale of food, medical and cleaning supplies; 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; and ensuring all passenger and car-ferry services provide minimum service levels and priority access for residents, and essential goods and workers.
“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,” Minister of Health Adrian Dix said. “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.”
On March 23, the Council of the Haida Nation (CHN), Skidegate Band Council, Old Massett Village Council, Village of Queen Charlotte, Village of Port Clements, Village of Masset and the North Coast Regional District (NCRD) had jointly declared states of local emergency within their jurisdictions.
After Farnworth’s announcement on Thursday, however, North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice confirmed the states of local emergency declared by the villages of Queen Charlotte, Port Clements and Masset, and by the NCRD, had been suspended.
The states of local emergency declared by the CHN, the Old Massett Village Council and the Skidegate Band Council remained in place.
“Today’s announcement by Minister Mike Farnworth of the suspension of local states of emergency in favour of the provincial state of emergency will allow for a united approach to combating the pandemic to be taken throughout the province, guided by the direction of B.C.’s provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry,” Rice said.
“Today’s measures will also allow for additional measures to be taken at the local level, such as giving municipal councils the flexibility to make decisions more quickly, and allowing for more coordination of local resources.”
Rice said states of emergency declared by First Nations are not under provincial jurisdiction and those states of emergency are unchanged by the announcement.
“We are continuing to work closely between different levels of government, with First Nations and federal partners, to keep British Columbians safe,” she said.
“These are exceptionally stressful times for all of us, in all of our communities, and will demand that each and every one of us do what we can to help our friends, family, and neighbours.
“Luckily, in the North Coast, this approach is what makes our communities resilient already, in good times and bad, and this is how we will continue to support each other to get through this new challenge.”
The Observer has reached out to the CHN for comment.
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