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BC travel ban will harm struggling tourism sector, says industry coalition

A coalition of British Columbia tourism industry groups is urging the province against considering a domestic travel ban, saying restricting travel between provinces to fight COVID-19 would only further harm the sector.

The BC government should steer away from pursuing an outright ban and work instead with the industry and communities to better educate travelers about pandemic health and safety protocols, said Vivek Sharma, chairman of the Tourism Association of BC.

He said many tourism-related businesses are barely surviving due to the pandemic and a travel ban now would likely mean many won’t survive the winter.

<who> Photo Credit: CP

“Tourism businesses in large and small communities are the glue that binds communities together,” Sharma said in an interview. “It runs through the fabric of our province and we need to find solutions as to how we can support them to get into spring and to create an environment in the spring where those businesses can flourish and succeed.”

He said the tourism sector wants to stress to the government that individual behaviour and not travel is behind the spread of COVID-19.

“What we are saying is the problem is not happening because of the travel,” said Sharma.

Premier John Horgan said earlier this week his government is seeking legal advice on whether it can limit interprovincial travel.

Sharma, speaking on behalf of tourism and accommodations organizations from Vancouver, Richmond and Greater Victoria, said a non-essential travel ban could also heighten unnecessary fears and misperceptions toward visitors to BC.

There were several police reports last year from people driving vehicles with out-of-province licence plates about being confronted by local residents concerned about the spread of COVID-19.

Sharma said the association has a legal opinion stating a travel ban would be difficult to implement due to Canada’s mobility rights provisions, but the industry is not looking for a legal confrontation with the province.

“We don’t want to talk about conflict,” he said. “I don’t even want to say we will challenge this in court.”

Cara Zwibel, a lawyer with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, said earlier the BC government would have to show evidence a travel ban is necessary.

She said it is not clear that BC has seen a rise in COVID-19 cases linked to interprovincial travel.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association is appealing an earlier court decision upholding travel restrictions imposed last year by the Newfoundland and Labrador government.

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