Times Colonist

Big gath­er­ings, but no dis­tanc­ing spark sev­eral calls to po­lice

- ROX­ANNE EGAN-EL­LIOTT

Po­lice are of­ten called to break up rowdy gath­er­ings, and there is lit­tle pa­tience for partiers this year amid a global health pan­demic.

On Fri­day night, res­i­dents in Saanich’s Panama Flats neigh­bour­hood saw a large gath­er­ing of young peo­ple hang­ing out in the street.

Sarah Wake­field, who lives on Carey Road where the crowd con­gre­gated, es­ti­mated there were at least 100 peo­ple.

At first, she could hear the group in the dis­tance, and then they mi­grated to her street.

“It was a con­stant stream of kids for an hour,” she said.

Wake­field said she saw one per­son wear­ing a mask, but for the most part, peo­ple were ig­nor­ing pub­lic health mea­sures such as phys­i­cal dis­tanc­ing.

She said she’d never seen or heard of a gath­er­ing so large in 20 years liv­ing in the area. That it hap­pened dur­ing a pan­demic wor­ried Wake­field.

“It’s COVID times, so we need to be­have in that way,” she said.

Saanich po­lice said the fre­quency of com­plaints about large gath­er­ings seems com­pa­ra­ble to other years and it’s con­cern­ing that some peo­ple do not ap­pear to be fol­low­ing pub­lic health guide­lines de­signed to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Po­lice said they were ini­tially called about a group of 20 to 30 peo­ple near Northridge El­e­men­tary School shortly be­fore 11 p.m. Less than 10 min­utes later, they re­ceived more calls say­ing the group had grown to more than 100 peo­ple, and some were be­com­ing ver­bally agres­sive and try­ing to dam­age pri­vate prop­erty.

Of­fi­cers spoke to some of the peo­ple gath­ered on Carey Road and learned some­one had weapons, in­clud­ing a ba­ton and maybe a knife.

Of­fi­cers were try­ing to lo­cate the per­son with weapons, who was be­lieved to be at the school, when they were ap­proached by res­i­dents with more in­for­ma­tion to share.

Po­lice said the group even­tu­ally dis­persed and of­fi­cers stayed in the area to speak to res­i­dents. They are still in­ves­ti­gat­ing and are ask­ing res­i­dents with in­for­ma­tion to pro­vide state­ments.

Vic­to­ria po­lice said they’ve re­ceived nu­mer­ous com­plaints about large groups who are not prac­tis­ing phys­i­cal dis­tanc­ing.

VicPD spokesman Bowen Osoko said the events have ranged from par­ties in apart­ments to a beach rave on Dal­las Road a few weeks ago, “com­plete with DJs, a mir­ror ball and peo­ple openly drink­ing while they danced to­gether.”

In Oak Bay, prob­lem par­ties seem to have dis­si­pated since the early days of the pan­demic, said Po­lice Chief Ray Ber­noties.

“I’m pleased that we don’t seem to be getting those right now. Months ago, there were some con­cerns ex­pressed about the num­ber of peo­ple on the beach but we’re not hear­ing those con­cerns much any­more.”

Ber­noties said he hopes the change is be­cause peo­ple are com­ply­ing with the guide­lines. He noted the Dis­trict of Oak Bay cre­ated a pro­gram in May of small out­reach teams that pro­vide in­for­ma­tion on phys­i­cal dis­tanc­ing guide­lines to peo­ple on Wil­lows Beach and at Cat­tle Point.

On Mon­day, Health Min­is­ter Adrian Dix said while out­door gath­er­ings are more vis­i­ble, in­door par­ties pose a greater risk.

Deputy pro­vin­cial health of­fi­cer Dr. Reka Gustafson said the num­ber of cases linked to trans­mis­sion in purely out­door set­tings has been “very, very lim­ited.”

“The vast amount of trans­mis­sion is oc­cur­ring in close, pro­longed con­tact, es­pe­cially in in­door set­tings, so that means among peo­ple who are spend­ing a lot of time to­gether and in close prox­im­ity,” she said.

Dix and Gustafson em­pha­sized the need to ed­u­cate and in­flu­ence peo­ple to make safe de­ci­sions, rather than pun­ish or shame any­one not fol­low­ing guide­lines.

Dix said he spent much of the week­end en­cour­ag­ing young peo­ple to en­gage with their peers about COVID-19.

“I’ve been so in­spired by their will­ing­ness to do so, by their un­der­stand­ing and their abil­ity to trans­late some of the things we’re try­ing to say in a way that works for them, and we need that,” he said, adding the pan­demic and “this new nor­mal” is ex­pected to last into 2022. “The way we deal with that as a so­ci­ety in­evitably has to be by choice, and by en­gage­ment and by talk­ing to each other.”

On oc­ca­sion, surveil­lance and en­force­ment is needed, Dix said, and gov­ern­ment min­istries met Mon­day to map out a com­pre­hen­sive ap­proach to in­creased en­force­ment mea­sures and stricter penal­ties that will come into ef­fect this week.

Mike Farn­worth, min­is­ter of Pub­lic Safety and Solicitor Gen­eral, is ex­pected to make an an­nounce­ment in the com­ing days.

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