Since the COVID-19 Compliance and Enforcement Team started in the spring, its members have conducted thousands of checks to residences and businesses.
The COVID-19 Compliance and Enforcement Team, a partnership between the City of Surrey and Surrey RCMP, started in late March as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
The team, consisting of bylaw services and Surrey RCMP, is meant to respond to public complaints received “where individuals are not respecting social distancing practicing and the instructions and/or recommendations” provided by Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.
In its first week, the team reportedly conducted checks at 106 locations across the city and issues seven warnings. Officers also responded to 13 calls for service “related to mandatory health orders.”
Since then, that number has increased to more than 50,000 checks for compliance, providing support and resources to Surrey residences and businesses. Some of those have been follow-up checks.
When the team was started, it was created to “disperse gatherings of more than 50 people through education, however, municipal fines or other penalties may be enforced against non-compliant persons or businesses” as businesses temporarily closed their doors early on in the pandemic.
That role has since changed.
“As the phases have evolved, we went from phase 1 to phase 2 (to phase 3)… As it’s all evolving and public health orders have evolved, etcetera, what their role has been has changed,” noted Corporal Elenore Sturko, media relations with the Surrey RCMP.
B.C. moved into Phase 3 on June 24, but the province is still under a state of emergency until Aug. 18.
Sturko said the “primary focus” is still on education, but she said the “majority of work is proactive.”
Most recently was the arrest of a 40-year-old man, who police say was allegedly uttering threats and a break-and-enter in connection to an investigation into “illegal after-hours clubs” operating in Whalley.
Police said suspect, who was “allegedly using a leased commercial space to host unlicensed events,” may also have hosted gatherings at commercial properties he allegedly accessed through break-and-enter.
The location for one of those parties, was also the same as a hookah lounge that had a possible COVID-19 public exposure between July 31 and Aug. 2.
Sturko said that in the beginning, when businesses were shuttered and people were staying in more, officers were focusing on making sure that people were complying with the ministerial orders of the time.
“There was a period of time when there wasn’t as many gatherings in public, so we didn’t receive as many gatherings about parties and the public,” said Sturko.
“As these things have sprung up across the city, we have seen an increase in people calling with concerns and wanting us to check up and making sure that things are compliant.”
Sturko added that people are “much more educated now” on social distancing “because we’ve all been practising it for months.”
“But as regulations and public health orders have changed with regard to restaurants and stuff like that, that’s generated a new type of activity for the team.”
Rob Costanzo, general manager of the City of Surrey’s corporate services, said in the last month team has “really been focusing our efforts on businesses, particularly food establishments.”
“What we’re finding is that, roughly and consistently, around 25 per cent of businesses are not following the protocols, the require protocols from the (provincial) health officer in terms of ensuring that the food service establishments have in place the necessary operational protocols that ensures the safety of the employees and the customers,” explained Costanzo.
The team, he said, has been working to educate the businesses.
“We’ll provide a subsequent visit, so if we do find a business — a food-service establishment — that’s not compliant, we provide them with the education materials,” he said.
If the officers then come back to the business and find it still to be non-compliant, then the team becomes “a little more stringent” with its message delivery, Costanzo said.
Otherwise, the business will be shut down if its non-compliant twice in a row.
“The city also has the ability to temporarily suspend the business licence for any establishment that’s not following the appropriate protocols.”
Asked if any businesses had been shut down, Costanzo said: “So far, only one. I would say most of these businesses, 99 per cent of the businesses, once they’re aware, they do comply.”
As the pandemic goes on, Costanzo said it’s “becoming a little more challenging with instances of non-compliance.”
“It was easier in phase 2, a lot of people were staying home, the weather was cooler, businesses were not operating. Once we entered into phase 3, we saw a lot more activity, the weather improved. People don’t want to be cooped up indoors, they’re outdoors,” he said.
“What we’re hoping to see, what we want to see out there is people physically distancing, wearing masks… Otherwise, we do want to ensure that the safety of the public, and the employees working at any of these businesses, that the business owners are doing the right thing and they’re also governing their patrons as well when they come into their facility.”
– With files from Tracy Holmes