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After five months, BC Ferries has yet to resume in-person meetings

B.C. Ferries called off the regular meetings for ferry users in September, after one participant threatened Ferries officials.
Diana Mumford and the FAC speak to BC Ferries representatives about the reduction of service to Route 3 at the September meeting that saw a member of the public utter a threat.

After five months and missing several self-imposed deadlines, B.C. Ferries has still not resumed public consultation meetings on ferry services.

B.C. Ferries called off the regular meetings for ferry users in September, after one participant threatened ferry officials at a meeting of the Southern Sunshine Coast ferry advisory committee in Gibsons.

While the corporation said its public consultation sessions would be moved online, the chair of the Southern Sunshine Coast committee, Diana Mumford, said ever since, her committee has been “continually ignored” by the ferry company.

Mumford said B.C. Ferries originally said meetings would resume at the end of October, then that it would be the beginning of 2024. Most recently, the company said in-person meetings may resume in early spring.

About 40 ferry users attended the September meeting in Gibsons, which followed the cancellation of 32 sailings over two months.

A member of the public said she blamed the ferry company’s reservation system for many of the problems, then threatened to “take a gun” to B.C. Ferries if it increased the number of reservation spots above 50 per cent of vessel capacity. After the meeting, Brian Anderson, B.C. Ferries vice-president of strategy and community engagement, suspended in-person events, telling advisory committee chairs the corporation would implement a safety and security plan for such meetings.

Citing a rise in “aggressive, threatening and abusive behaviour,” he said the goal was to resume face-to-face meetings “as soon as possible as guided by the safety plan.”

Mumford said the individual who made the threat apologized to B.C. Ferries and promised not to attend any future meetings, asking that the advisory committee not be blamed for what she said.

“It’s like we’ve all got class detention. All of the [committees] are being punished by one incident that happened at our meeting,” Mumford said.

Deborah Marshall, B.C. Ferries’ executive director of public affairs, said in a statement that after the Sunshine Coast incident, the company became aware that aggressive and abusive behaviour had been taking place at several community events but was going unreported.

“The security review concluded that, without changes, we would be at risk of non-compliance with several WorkSafeBC regulations as well as some of our own internal policies to ensure a safe workplace for our people,” she wrote.

Mumford’s concern is that without in-person meetings, the opportunity for ferry users to provide feedback on the company’s plans and operations has simply disappeared.

Some advisory committee chairs are so discouraged that they have talked about quitting and starting a completely separate group, saying they are tired of the “royal runaround,” said Mumford. “We bring a lot of knowledge and expertise about the flavour of our communities.”

Jordan Copp is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter with the Coast Reporter. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

— With files from Carla Wilson, Times Colonist