February 19th, 2021
Harris writes to Minister of Transportation regarding Bell Island Ferry Service
Hon. Omar Alghabra
Minister of Transportation
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0A6
Constituents have been calling and messaging my office concerning the COVID-19 measures onboard the Bell Island ferry service. This ferry service is a vital link for residents of Bell Island, who have no alternative but to use this service which consists of two vessels – the MV Legionnaire and the MV Beaumont Hamel. Before Alert level 5 as many as 500 people used these ferries to commute to work. At the beginning of the pandemic passengers were permitted to remain in their vehicles on the car decks but as of October 1, 2020 that exemption was lifted.
Of particular concern are COVID-19 cases in Newfoundland and Labrador, which are spiking due to the highly contagious new variant B.1.1.7. Residents travel as passengers for medical treatment to St. John’s and are very worried that their immune systems are already at great risk. Therefore, to reduce further risk of infection, many ferry passengers would like to be able to remain their vehicles during crossings, at the very least until this spike in infections is brought under control.
Commuters are particularly concerned that appropriate COVID-19 mitigation measures onboard are not satisfactory to keep them safe once they exit their vehicles and proceed to the upper decks for the crossing. They cite non-use of masks, as well as a lack of hand washing facilities and hand sanitizer. As well, they as concerned that people could be travelling onboard that are from outside the Atlantic Bubble who should be in quarantine but will be with them in public spaces on the vessels.
I am respectfully requesting that you review Ship Safety Bulletins regarding this situation and reconsider the decision that does not permit passengers to remain in their vehicles should they choose to do so.
I look forward to a positive response at your earliest convenience.
Jack Harris, Q.C., M.P., St. John’s East
Cc. Gary Gosine, Mayor, Town of Wabana