BC’s new travel restrictions increase risk for BIPOC

Premier John Horgan should have consulted BIPOC communities before announcing guidelines

Implementing police checkpoints endangers marginalized communities. PHOTO: THE CANADIAN PRESS / Yvonne Berg

By: Alea Mohamed, Staff Writer

On April 19, BC Premier John Horgan implemented a new set of COVID-19 restrictions to limit travel between health authorities. The travel ban will enable the police to set up roadblocks to ensure that people are only moving through health authorities for essential travel. It is shocking that the Horgan administration would give the police extended enforcement abilities when there are other methods of limiting travel. Horgan’s decision is concerning and will put members of the BIPOC community at risk. 

While many take issue with the fact that travel is even being restricted in this manner, at the very least there should have been adequate conversations with those who are most at risk of police brutality: members of the BIPOC community. The initial announcement of the restrictions was full of grey areas and ambiguity, suggesting that the travel ban would permit random police checkpoints. Even with the recent clarifications — that the checkpoints will only be taking place between health authorities — giving the police the ability to limit travel is unnecessary and is counterintuitive to the calls from the BIPOC community for reducing the use of police services. 

As a Black woman, it is terrifying to be stopped at a police checkpoint, even when you know you haven’t done anything wrong. I know to put my hands on my lap, stop talking, and act as nice as possible to the police. If I have to reach for something, I know to ask them first. This is the reality for BIPOC folk. The BC government should have consulted with BIPOC groups before announcing these restrictions to reduce the potential harm that could be caused by police implementation. Even in the best-case scenario, assuming that the travel ban is only used for distributing fines as promised, the fear that these restrictions will and already have instilled with marginalized communities is damaging and avoidable.

There are many realistic alternatives to police use. The most relevant alternatives would be groups other than the police handling traffic control or bylaw enforcement. The fact that neither of these options were publicly considered, along with many additional unanswered questions about these restrictions, leaves a sour taste in my mouth. I’m sure many other British Columbians feel the same way. Additionally, tickets and fines simply do not need to be issued by armed police, especially considering the risks associated with armed police presence for BIPOC folk.

On April 21, the BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) released an open letter to the NDP government — signed by a number of prominent BIPOC organizations — where they expressed concern with the added police presence on streets, alleged claims of BIPOC consultation, and how essential travel will be defined in practice. Since then, BC Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth announced that he had consulted with several BIPOC groups in regards to new travel restriction implementations. However, he could not reveal who they were due to confidentiality issues. 

From Horgan and Farnworth’s statements, we can assume that these government officials are aware of how much more dangerous police checkpoints will be to BIPOC communities. But, Horgan has also delayed answering questions from the press, so it is unclear as to what his next steps might be. Either way, the premier’s lack of communication with the public and secretive decision-making don’t show very much accountability or willingness to step back from implementing the restrictions.

If all levels of government came together and put in stricter restrictions, there would be no need for travel restrictions in general. As we move towards the summer, it will become more difficult to get people to stay home and continue practicing social distancing. Travel restrictions are beneficial for a reduction in COVID-19 cases, especially outside of the Lower Mainland where transmission is lower, but these restrictions will be difficult to enforce.

The implementation of restrictions should have been done in a way that ensured the security and protection of all British Columbians, but this isn’t the way. Horgan had the opportunity (and still does) to step back from his decision after being confronted by the BCCLA and BIPOC community representatives — except he didn’t. This policy and its subsequent confusion is going to be another stain on the Horgan administration’s mishandling of the pandemic.