B.C. enables police to issue $2K fines for price gouging, reselling of medical supplies

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The province is enabling police and other enforcement officers to issue $2,000 fines to people engaged in price gouging and the reselling of medical supplies.

B.C.’s minister of public safety Mike Farnworth made the announcement on Sunday morning, saying enforcement will come from bylaw officers, liquor and cannabis inspectors, park rangers, conservation officers, and others.

He said his office has received reports made to Consumer Protection B.C of the reselling of essential medical supplies — including personal protective equipment.

Farnworth called the actions by some “shameful,” citing the story of an elderly, immuno-compromised woman who paid 10 times what she normally would for an N95 mask.

“There will be those who want to prey on peoples’ fears and the most vulnerable in our society,” he said, adding the majority of people reselling supplies are individuals, not connected to organized crime.

“We will not allow these practices to continue. We need to work together to keep society running.”

People who fail to self-quarantine after returning from travel can also face fines.

1400 complaints of gouging

Farnworth said the province recognizes that as demand for supplies increases, the price does increase. But he said the standard to recognize price gouging will come down to common sense, and that some prices posted online have been “exorbitant.”

“You know it when you see it,” he said.

“It’s not a question that there’s a critical shortage and a price is rising in every jurisdiction.”

Inquiries or complaints of price gouging can be directed to Consumer Protection B.C., which says it has received more than 1400 complaints since the end of March. 

“We have a process of reaching out to the businesses that we believe are taking part in this kind of activity, and our first goal really is to get voluntary compliance from them. To educate them about what the law says, to tell them about the complaint, and to see if they are willing to voluntarily start to comply with the law change,” said Rob Gialloretom, president and CEO of Consumer Protection B.C.

“Most businesses are really doing great things in our marketplaces, it’s just those few that are incredibly egregious when they are pricing to take advantage of people, and that’s just an unconscionable act at this time,” said Gialloretom.

Gialloretom says they’ve fielded complaints about sellers from storefronts to car trunks, with the majority of reports addressing personal protective equipment (PPE) and paper products.

Farnworth said that most people are complying with physical distancing advice and there is no plan to close down public spaces at beaches and in parks.

He also said there are currently no concerns around maintaining supply chains, but that the province is planning in case the situation changes.

On April 15 B.C. Premier John Horgan extended the provincial state of emergency by two weeks.

States of emergency can only be issued for two weeks at a time in B.C.

The declaration gives the province extraordinary powers during a crisis, including the ability to restrict travel and set prices for essential goods like medical supplies and food.

If you have a COVID-19-related story we should pursue that affects British Columbians, please email us at impact@cbc.ca.

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