Delta police have seized nearly 4,000 surgical masks from a two individuals trying to sell the much-needed medical equipment despite a provincial ban on such sales.
According to a post on the Delta Police Department’s Facebook page, officers with the DPD’s crime reduction unit arranged to make two bulk purchases of medical grade surgical masks on Tuesday, April 14. Police arranged to buy 2,000 surgical masks from one seller for $1,600, and another 1,940 masks from another for $2,134.
“Apparently not all re-sellers of medical protection equipment have got the message yet that this type of activity is currently prohibited. But Delta Police were happy to provide that education,” the post reads.
Both sellers received $500 bylaw tickets for operating without a business licence and police seized a total of 3,940 masks.
The seizures come a week and a half after Delta police seized 60 N95 masks and 5,300 surgical masks from two separate re-sellers. Both of those individuals were also handed $500 bylaw tickets for operating without a business licence.
The masks from the first seizure were handed over to SafeCare BC, one of the organizations collecting personal protection equipment on behalf of the provincial government, to be redistributed to health authorities. According to a post on the DPD’s Facebook page, BC Care Providers board president Aly Devji said the masks would likely be prioritized to protect seniors in care.
During a virtual townhall on Thursday morning (April 16), DPD Chief Neil Dubord said the masks seized on April 14 are being held as evidence for the time being until it is decided “whether or not there will be a case coming forward from that particular investigation.”
“Once we identify whether or not they are needed for evidence, they could be donated back to Fraser Health and they could again distribute them according to their distribution network,” Dubord said.
Last month, Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth announced a ban on the resale of food, medical and cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment, saying it would put an end to the “shameful black market for medical supplies” that has materialized as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.
“People engaging in that behaviour can expect to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” Farnworth said on March 26.
People found breaking that order and others issued under the provincial state of emergency could face fines of more than $25,000 or jail time.
Last week, Delta Mayor George Harvie sent a letter to Minister of Health Adrian Dix asking the province to empower local authorities to enforce public health orders relating to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The letter, dated April 8, says the city needs the ability at the local level to enforce the orders of Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry to “effectively support” the government in limiting the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Delta council unanimously approved amendments to the city’s Emergency Program Bylaw on March 27 enabling police and bylaw enforcement officers to ticket and fine anyone who isn’t adhering to orders issued by the provincial health officer relating to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Under the amended bylaw, acting contrary to an order, failing to carry out or comply with an order, or interfering with or obstructing any authorized person in carrying out their duties will carry a fine of between $500 and $1,000 per offence.
However, Delta’s authority to issue those fines ended when the province suspended local states of emergency in favour of a co-ordinated provincial response to the COVID-19 pandemic the day before the bylaw was passed.
On Tuesday, March 31, the province issued a clarification regarding the role of compliance and enforcement officials in implementing COVID-19 public health orders.
The document states that local police and bylaw officers are not empowered to ticket or detain people with respect to public heath orders, except when called upon to assist a health officer.
The document goes on to state the province has adopted and implemented a “graduated compliance and enforcement approach that generally starts with providing information, education and advice as the first step, with escalating measured enforcement only as required.
A shorter brief issued the same day says bylaw enforcement officers and the like are to serve as the start of the graduated enforcement.
“If this approach is not successful, then referral to a health officer is appropriate.”
— with files from Katya Slepian