Some ferry passengers still don’t want to wear masks

The president of the B.C. Ferry and Marine Workers Union says it’s time to bring back police patrols on board vessels because some passengers are resisting wearing masks.

Most passengers put on masks as required under a provincial health order.

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But some don’t want to and are argumentative, Eric McNeely said Thursday. “I’d like to say it’s rare, but I think it’s frequent enough that it’s too much.”

McNeely is concerned about the mask issue coming up on the Thanksgiving weekend next month when ferries are typically extra busy.

A passenger without a mask may have genuinely forgotten to put it on while in other cases passengers resistant to wearing masks are “willing to engage with employees,” he said.

Ferry workers are not trained in enforcement, he said.

The mask issue is coming at a time when crew members are working flat out because of an ongoing shortage of mariners, McNeely said.

They are more comfortable if there’s a second crew member beside them while reminding a passenger about mask rules but that’s not always possible given the tighter number of crew these days, he said.

He would like to see police patrolling and doing spot checks on the major routes and urges B.C. Ferries to hire more people.

B.C. Ferries has acknowledged the labour issue, saying there is a global shortage of mariners. In recent months, some sailings have been cancelled because a ship was without the minimum number of crew members required by Transport Canada.

Passengers have noticed that others have been flouting the rules and have sent messages via social media to B.C. Ferries.

A Gulf Islands passenger posted a message saying that only B.C. Ferries employees wore masks on one sailing this week. Two others posted that several passengers on recent sailings between the mainland and Vancouver Island were without masks.

Deborah Marshall, B.C. Ferries spokesperson, said that extra security to back up crew members has been added when available to deal with disruptive or non-compliant passengers. Police have also been called in for a “small number” of security incidents, she said.

“Our staff do their best to deal with these situations. The public must keep in mind, B.C. Ferries is not an enforcement agency,” she said. “If a situation escalates, a supervisor is called to deal with the customer in question.”

Under the Canada Shipping Act, B.C. Ferries has the right to deny service to anyone who does not follow instructions from crew members, she said. Travel bans can be issued by B.C. Ferries.

In late August, masks became mandatory in all indoor public spaces, including in ferries and in terminals for everyone 12 and older.

People consuming food or drinks inside a vehicle or in specially designated areas do not have to wear a mask.

Passengers with a medical condition or disability that prohibits them from wearing a mask are also exempt.

A mother and daughter were fined about $900 after ignoring repeated requests to put on masks while on a ferry to Nanaimo from Horseshoe Bay in February. They had masks with them but refused to put them on.

Police said the two were yelling and were abusive to crew members.

In an incident in April, the Spirit of Vancouver Island turned around and headed back to dock at Swartz Bay when a passenger would not wear a mask and created a disturbance. He was met by North Saanich-Sidney RCMP officers, fined $230 and barred from ferries for that day.

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

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