Cities need more power to deal with ‘idiots’ who violate COVID-19 orders, Abbotsford mayor says

Henry Braun says more powers from the province, not local state of emergency, needed

To clamp down on ‘idiots’ breaking social-distancing laws, cities need new temporary powers from the province, Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun says.

Several other B.C. municipalities have declared their own states of emergency, but Braun said Monday that Abbotsford wouldn’t be doing the same. He said Solicitor General Mike Farnworth had told mayors that doing so could create confusion and muddle provincial efforts to keep supply chains operating efficiently.

Instead, Braun said that for cities to act quickly and decisively, they need power that can only be granted by the province. He said he expects and hopes the government will act soon to empower municipalities.

(While Vancouver has declared such an emergency and used the powers attached to give itself the right to levy huge fines against those who break social-distancing orders, that city is governed by a different charter than most other B.C. cities.)

RELATED: Abbotsford won’t declare local state of emergency, mayor says

Braun said Abbotsford and other municipalities need new temporary powers, including the ability to fast-track new bylaws, to allow them to act more quickly.

Last week, Fraser Health set up a drive-thru COVID-19 testing site is now up and running on land owned by the city. But before that site got running, council had to be convened to grant permission. That process took days, and Braun said additional powers from the province could help speed up future initiatives.

“In order to do what some people are suggesting we do, we need to have a bylaw,” said Braun, who has repeatedly said he thinks the province is handling the crisis well.

Current laws that give cities the ability to set bylaws require a set of time-consuming activities and notifications. Those are meant to protect the public’s interest, but they mean such bylaws usually take weeks to get passed.

“We don’t have three or four weeks,” Braun said. “There are some decisions I would like to make on a dime. I don’t have the authority to do it.”

RELATED: COVID-19 website and assessment centre established in Abbotsford

While he said most people are acting appropriately, Braun said tougher enforcement options will be needed to deal with people who flaunt social-distancing orders.

“Yes, there are a few idiots out there who think this is still a joke,” Braun said. “And those people, we’re going to have to deal with fairly seriously if they continue to violate the orders. These are not suggestions or recommendations.”

Braun said city bylaw officials will respond to complaints about those failing to comply. Those officers only have so much power, and the fines they can hand out are relatively small.

“We need higher fines for some of this because some people only obey laws when it hurts,” Braun said.

He said police could be tasked with shutting down larger gatherings.

Braun urged people concerned about groups to contact city hall directly about concerns that people aren’t following orders..

“We’ll take it from there,” he said.

He also urged the public to exert their own social power.

“When you see something say something – but don’t get into a fight.”

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