VANCOUVER — B.C.’s travel and tourism industry is speaking out against a potential travel ban on inter-provincial, non-essential travel, in the wake of reports that B.C. Premier John Horgan has been looking into the legality of limiting inter-provincial travel for B.C. residents.
A coalition of industry groups including the Tourism Industry Association of British Columbia, the B.C. Hotel Association and several tourism boards including Tourism Vancouver say such a ban would go against Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It would also further cripple a sector that is “barely hanging on by a thread.”
Vivek Sharma, Chair, Tourism Industry Association of British Columbia, says: “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.”
In response to Premier Horgan’s Jan. 14 statement that the province is seeking legal advice to look at implementing a travel ban, the Tourism Industry Association of BC 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, says the association, adding that 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 coalition says the legal opinion also indicates 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.
“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,” says Ingrid Jarret, President & CEO, B.C. Hotel Association.
Jarret added: “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.”
The coalition says its members acknowledge 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.
“Tourism and hospitality businesses have gone above and beyond the call to develop and implement government approved health and safety measures for the protection of customers and visitors, no matter where they’re from. We’ve not only abided by these measures, but in many cases exceeded provincial guidelines yet we’re the sector impacted the most by orders or proposed bans like this. The effect on workers, businesses and communities has been and will continue to be devastating. We do not need another blow to our sector when we’re barely surviving as it is,” says Royce Chwin, President & CEO, Tourism Vancouver.
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.
And coalition members are urging the 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 individual behaviour.
“As more countries, provinces, states and cities around the world open or prepare to re-open to non-essential travel, BC must work toward implementing the necessary steps to safely re-start the visitor economy and the industry. Potential travel bans, or even discussions about them, sets these initiatives back and will mean a longer struggle for our beleaguered businesses and the workforce. We need to work productively with all levels of government in the coming months to focus on the future and solutions that will allow us to welcome visitors again,” says Tourism Richmond CEO, Nancy Small.