March 26 Provincial Orders: Coordinating a Province-Wide Response to COVID-19

On March 26, 2020, the BC Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth issued a series of ministerial orders utilizing the extraordinary powers under the Emergency Program Act.  These orders are aimed at ensuring a coordinated response to the COVID-19 pandemic across all levels of government, and will impact local governments, businesses and employers.

Essential Goods and Supplies

The Local Authorities and Essential Goods and Supplies Order (Ministerial Order No. M084) takes immediate steps to coordinate emergency response efforts province-wide and to protect the supply chain for essential goods and supplies.  These steps are directed primarily at local governments and certain businesses, such as retailers, hotel operators, ferry operators, and organizations involved in distribution channels for goods and supplies.  Specifically, the order:

  • Defines “essential goods and supplies” to mean any goods and supplies that are necessary for the health, safety and welfare of people, specifically including:
    • food, water or other beverages;
    • fuel and gasoline;
    • health care goods, pharmaceuticals, and medical supplies; and
    • personal hygiene, sanitation and cleaning goods.
  • Sets aside all declared local states of emergency (except for the City of Vancouver and First Nations communities), and requires that any future declarations of local state of emergency pertaining to COVID-19 not be made without approval of the minister;
  • Requires local authorities to:
    • take steps to identify publically owned properties or facilities that could be used as part of COVID-19 emergency efforts;
    • use best efforts to maintain essential infrastructures, specifically first responders, drinking water and waste water services;
    • use best efforts to maintain and deliver critical services to vulnerable populations, including food banks and shelter services;
  • Permits delivery of goods, food or supplies to a retailer at any time, despite any local bylaws to the contrary;
  • When directed by the minister, requires hotel operators to provide accommodation services for COVID-19 emergency reasons, including for self-isolation of individuals, supporting essential service workers, or any other purpose identified by Emergency Management BC;
  • Prohibits the secondary selling of any essential good or supply, whether in-person or on-line;
  • Requires ferry operators to implement procedures necessary to ensure priority loading for essential goods and supplies, and residents of the ferry sailing destinations; and
  • When directed by the minister, requires all suppliers, distributors and retailers in the province, the Retail Council of Canada (BC) and certain trucking associations to make coordinated efforts to ensure effective delivery of essential goods and supplies.

Bylaw Enforcement

The Bylaw Enforcement Officer Order (Ministerial Order M082) enables municipal bylaw officers to support the enforcement of the Provincial Health Officer’s orders for business closures and gatherings, including through:

  • monitoring facilities closed to the public by the PHO order;
  • providing warnings, information and advice to businesses and individuals regarding the PHO orders and potential contraventions of the PHO orders; and
  • providing information regarding suspected contraventions to the PHO.

However, bylaw enforcement officers are not authorized under this order to detain an individual as a result of a contravention (or suspected contravention) of a PHO order, or to issue a fine.

Local Government Meetings

Finally, the Local Government Meetings and Bylaw Process Order (Ministerial Order M083) provides procedural relief for municipalities with respect to their obligation to hold council or board meetings open to the public in light of current social distancing and gathering prohibitions.

What are “Essential Services”?

As part of the government’s press release announcing these new ministerial orders, Emergency Management BC clarified the meaning of “essential services” during the COVID-19 pandemic.  “Essential services” are “those daily services essential to preserving life, health, public safety and basic societal functioning.”  The list of such essential services is different from the essential service designations under the BC Labour Relations Code.  The full list can be accessed at the end of the government’s press release, but includes the following categories broad categories of businesses and occupations:

  • Health and health services;
  • Law enforcement, public safety, first responders, emergency response personnel;
  • Vulnerable population service providers;
  • Critical infrastructure service providers;
  • Food and agriculture service providers;
  • Transportation, infrastructure and manufacturing;
  • Sanitation;
  • Communications, information sharing, and information technology; and
  • Non-health essential service providers.

Importantly, the government has announced that in consultation with the PHO, any business or service that has not been ordered to close, and is not identified on the essential services list, may stay open if it can adapt its services and workplace to the orders and recommendations of the PHO.

Note to our Readers: Information regarding COVID-19 is rapidly evolving. We are working to bring you up-to-date articles as the legal issues develop and to keep our previous posts updated. Given that the legal issues related to COVID-19 are constantly changing, if you are looking for legal advice or are dealing with an issue in relation to COVID-19, please contact your Harris lawyer or a member of our COVID-19 response team: Sari Wiens, Ilan BurkesNicole Toye or Jessica Fairbairn.

To read our most recent articles and other updates on COVID-19, visit our COVID-19 Updates page.