BC Ferries has clear rules about mask wearing, but says its employees are not enforcers. (Zoe Ducklow photo)

BC Ferries has clear rules about mask wearing, but says its employees are not enforcers. (Zoe Ducklow photo)

Unmasking BC Ferries: Questions raised about COVID-19 rules, enforcement

Ferry corporation says crew not enforcers, random RCMP checks aimed at car decks

As Transport Canada confirms it is not considering a second exemption to the no-passengers-on-enclosed-vehicle-decks rule, concerns are being raised about whether public health orders are being adequately enforced on board BC Ferries.

BC Ferries loudly informs customers of mask-wearing and physical distancing policies with loud-speaker announcements, signage, mask checks on entry and patrols on board. However BC Ferries is “not an enforcement agency,” said spokesperson Deborah Marshall.

Since Nov. 6 the RCMP have been on random sailings, but they’re looking for passengers on enclosed car decks not people without masks. Their role, a spokesperson told Black Press, is as an assisting agency to enforce Transport Canada’s safety regulations as opposed to public health enforcement.

“I can’t say they wouldn’t enforce public health orders on board, but it’s not the focus of them being there,” the spokesperson said.

BC Ferries does reserve the right to deny service to people for refusing to follow safety guidelines, but immediate enforcement of public health orders on the ferries seems to be hanging between the various agencies.

An Oct. 19 incident garnered attention, when anti-mask protesters caused a fuss on a ferry sailing from West Vancouver to Nanaimo.

More recently Cathie Waddington, a 72-year-old Vancouver Island resident who travelled to the mainland for medical reasons said she saw several passengers remove masks after BC Ferries staff passed by.

In light of this half-hearted obedience to mask-wearing and physical distancing, she feels COVID-19 is a bigger risk than drowning.

She observed one passenger sleeping without a mask. A crew member woke them up to put their mask on, but as soon as the crew member walked away the mask was pulled below his nose where it remained. Other passengers had masks below their noses, and she observed some occupied rows that were meant to be closed for distancing.

“I am not really very happy that Transport Canada says BC Ferries is now safe as they have implemented safety measures. The truth is they are implemented, but they do not have the staff or time to enforce it properly,” Waddington said.

READ MORE: Transport Canada probes 1,000+ reports of passengers refusing to leave vehicles on BC Ferries

Crew are also cleaning and sanitizing surfaces more frequently, have put physical barriers to support physical distancing, and allow passengers on open decks to remain in their vehicles, Marshall said.

That isn’t enough for Waddington, though. She cited the relatively low number of fatal incidents in BC Ferries’ history — eight people have died in three separate incidents since BC Ferries was founded in 1960 — saying the death risk of COVID-19 is worse.

“[Transport Canada is] putting us, the passengers at risk of a virus that kills old people and can cause life long disabilities in the young and old,” Waddington said.

In an emailed statement regarding passengers who refused to leave their vehicles, Transport Canada told Black Press that requiring passengers to leave enclosed vehicle decks during transport is a standard global policy “due to the inherent safety risk and potential for catastrophic loss of life.”

It added that, “ferry travellers do not need to choose between personal safety and marine safety. By physical distancing, wearing a mask and leaving the enclosed vehicle deck while the ferry is operating, passengers and crew can stay safe.”

For more news from Vancouver Island and beyond delivered daily into your inbox, please click here.

Do you have something to add to this story or something else we should report on? Email: zoe.ducklow@blackpress.ca


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