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


BCFerriesCoronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Saanich is preparing to repave Quadra Street between McKenzie Avenue and Falmouth Road. (District of Saanich/Twitter)
Repaving, culvert replacement begins on Quadra Street in Saanich

Lane closures, traffic impacts expected over several weeks

James Taylor, a Saanich resident and member of the Curve Lake First Nation, walked all over Greater Victoria on May 5 in honour of Red Dress Day and the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. (Devon Bidal/News staff)
Indigenous man walks Greater Victoria to honour missing and murdered women and girls

James Taylor, of the Curve Lake First Nation, marks Red Dress Day with healing walk, songs

Victoria police is asking for the public’s assistance in identifying this suspect after they allegedly robbed a Douglas Street bank on Tuesday. (Photo courtesy of VicPD)
Police seek identity of suspect who alllegedly robbed Victoria bank

Officers were called to a bank in the 1000-block of Douglas Street just after 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday

A man who allegedly spat at and yelled racial slurs at an Asian family was arrested for hate-motivated assault Tuesday. (Black Press Media file photo)
Man arrested for allegedly spitting, yelling anti-Asian racial slurs at a mother and kids

The man was arrested for hate-motivated assault near Quadra Elementary School Tuesday

Jose Marchand prepares Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination doses at a mobile clinic for members of First Nations and their partners, in Montreal, Friday, April 30, 2021. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization is coming under fire after contradicting the advice Canadians have been receiving for weeks to take the first vaccine against COVID-19 that they’re offered. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Trudeau says he is glad he got AstraZeneca, vaccines are only way out of pandemic

‘The most important thing is to get vaccinated with the first vaccine offered to you’

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of May 4

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

(Black Press Media file photo)
POLL: Do you plan to travel on the Victoria Day long weekend?

It’s the unofficial start to the summer season. A time of barbecues,… Continue reading

B.C.’s provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Dip in COVID-19 cases with 572 newly announced in B.C.

No new deaths have been reported but hospitalized patients are up to 481, with 161 being treated in intensive care

Protesters attempt to stop clear-cutting of old-growth trees in Fairy Creek near Port Renfrew. (Will O���Connell photo)
Clash between loggers, activists halts forestry operations over Fairy Creek

Forest license holders asking for independent investigation into incident

The courthouse in Nanaimo, B.C. (News Bulletin file)
Island man sentenced in Nanaimo after causing a dog unnecessary pain and suffering

Kiefer Tyson Giroux, 26, of Nanoose Bay, given six-month sentence

Following a one-year pause due to the pandemic, the Snowbirds were back in the skies over the Comox Valley Wednesday (May 5) morning. Photo by Erin Haluschak
Video: Snowbirds hold first training session in Comox Valley in more than 2 years

The team will conduct their training from May 4 to 26 in the area

Solar panels on a parking garage at the University of B.C. will be used to separate water into oxygen and hydrogen, the latter captured to supply a vehicle filling station. (UBC video)
UBC parkade project to use solar energy for hydrogen vehicles

Demonstration project gets $5.6M in low-carbon fuel credits

Most Read