The British Columbia tourism industry says that a ban on inter-provincial, non-essential travel not only goes against Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, it would also further cripple a sector that is barely hanging on by a thread.
Responding to Premier John Horgan’s statement last week that the province is seeking legal advice to look at implementing a travel ban, the Tourism Industry Association of BC (TIABC) has commissioned a legal opinion that states a travel ban would be difficult to implement because the Supreme Court of Canada has held that Canadians’ mobility rights are among the most cherished rights of citizenship that are fundamental to nationhood. These rights are so important they cannot be overridden by the notwithstanding clause.
Government will be required to justify any infringement of those rights by showing they are carefully tailored to solve a real problem that other health measures that do not restrict Canadians’ rights cannot achieve.
The opinion also suggests that it would be challenging for government to justify creating classes of Canadian citizens based on provincial residency, and that the government would have to explain how a provincial ban would be logical and justified when the federal government permits Canadians to travel for non-essential purposes and return to Canada through any province of their choice.
At the same time, the Coalition acknowledges the outstanding work by government and frontline health care workers to manage the pandemic, and stresses that it is not advocating to irresponsibly open the province to all travel at this time.
However, industry leaders point out that since the start of the pandemic, the tourism and hospitality industry has supported provincial COVID-19 protocols and prioritized health and safety by developing and implementing extensive health and safety measures to protect guests, employees and residents.
The coalition also says that the industry is keen to work with government on solutions to address rogue behaviour and further protect the public regardless of where people come from or reside.
Vivek Sharma, chair of the Tourism Industry Association of British Columbia, said that: “A travel ban would further heighten the unnecessary fears, misperceptions and growing resentment by BC residents toward visitors as a result of actions aimed at our industry. The spread of COVID-19 is not tied to where people live, but how people behave. There should be no reason why Canadians cannot continue to travel to BC if they are tested, know and follow the rules, as well as practice health and safety protocols outlined by the PHO and implemented by all businesses.”
Industry leaders have repeatedly emphasized that travel is not the culprit for the spread of COVID-19, but rather individual behaviour. Coalition members say they are not aware of or have seen any hard data to support further travel restrictions or an outright ban on non-essential travel within BC and to/from other provinces.
Ingrid Jarrett, president & CEO of the BC Hotel Association, said: “We implore the province not to pursue an outright travel ban that would cause undue hardship on businesses, the workforce and our province’s stellar reputation as a welcome and safe place to visit. While now is not the time to encourage non-essential travel, banning visitors from other parts of Canada sends a strong and false message that visitors are to blame for rising transmission rates. Conversely, we need to work together with government to convey the message that people visiting BC for whatever purpose must commit to our strict health and safety protocols.”
Coalition members are urging government to steer away from the notion of a travel ban in favour of working with the industry and communities to educate prospective visitors on their responsibilities vis- à-vis BC health and safety protocols, as well as expected individual behaviour.