Thousands of people have signed a petition calling on the federal and provincial governments to restrict non-essential travel to B.C.’s north and central coasts, including Haida Gwaii.
According to Change.org, “concerned citizens” started the petition this week and Black Press Media is working to confirm who is behind it.
The online petition demands that government “fully acknowledge the unique COVID-19 risks” to the region, as well as implement and enforce restrictions on travel to the communities “opposed to the current provincial ‘recommendation’ against non-essential travel.”
“Calls from our region are being ignored by the provincial and federal governments,” the petition states. “We demand that our voices, and our leaders voices, are heard.”
At press time on April 13, more than 2,400 people had signed.
North Coast Regional District (NCRD) Electoral Area E Director Evan Putterill, who lives on Haida Gwaii, told Black Press Media he had signed the petition and wants to see two checkpoints set up to restrict non-essential travel, one outside Prince Rupert and one outside Bella Coola.
Putterill said the NCRD, working with local municipalities and First Nation communities, had been in the process of planning enforcement measures such as checkpoints when the province suspended its state of local emergency on March 26 by ministerial order.
“It’s frustrating,” he said. “The government seems to have their heels dug in on this issue and for the life of me I can’t understand why.
“First Nations and local governments think in a lot of respects the province is doing a great job, but there needs to be more action taken tailored to the local realities on the ground … people’s lives depend on it.”
Putterill is also the co-chair of the BC Ferries North and Central Coast Advisory Committee, and believes it would require “really simple action” to restrict non-essential travel on northern ferries, which rely heavily on reservations.
“It would be complicated down south where people just drive to the ferry and get on,” he said.
Old Massett resident Roxanne Edgars told Black Press Media she also signed the petition and agrees that government should “make the ferry freight only.”
“We need to stop the ferry allowing passengers on and just have it strictly freight,” she said, noting the presumptive case of COVID-19 in neighbouring Prince Rupert.
“It’s just too risky right now.”
Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Taylor Bachrach shared a link to the petition on April 7 in a Facebook post.
Although Bachrach told Black Press Media he had not signed the petition himself, he shared it “for the information of constituents.”
“My job is to represent my constituents and I’m hearing from my constituents that they’re very concerned about non-essential travel,” he said.
“The petition is in part addressed to the federal government and that’s why, as a federal representative, I was willing to make people aware of it.”
Bachrach also noted he has been advocating to restrict sport fishing licenses to in-province fisherman only for the duration of the COVID-19 outbreak.
In an emailed statement, North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice said she has worked “since the beginning of COVID in B.C. to make sure that the particular needs of our regions are understood.”
“I am confident that our unified response to the pandemic, guided by our provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, is the approach that will keep all of us as safe as possible — no matter where in B.C. we live,” Rice said.
“At this time, the province is not planning to place overall restrictions on internal travel. The movement of people and goods within B.C. that is needed to sustain our communities and our health-care system is critical, and our public roads and transportation networks have to stay open to allow for this.”
She added that the Canada-U.S. land border has been closed to non-essential travel, the health ministers of B.C. and Alberta have directed people to stay home and avoid all non-essential travel, and BC Ferries is notifying passengers that travel to Haida Gwaii is to be for essential reasons only as well as screening passengers for COVID-19 symptoms.
BC Ferries spokesperson Deborah Marshall confirmed in an email that the company is advising people not to travel if it is not essential.
“If the province issues an order we would comply,” Marshall added.
The petition closely follows an April 6 letter local First Nations and municipalities sent to provincial and federal authorities, calling for “immediate emergency measures” to restrict non-essential travel.
Several First Nation communities in B.C. have erected checkpoints to date, including the Skidegate Band Council on April 2, the Old Massett Village Council, the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation (Canoe Creek Dog Creek) in B.C.’s Interior on March 23 and the Nuxalk Nation EOC in the Bella Coola Valley.
States of emergency declared by First Nations are under federal jurisdiction.
— With files from Monica Lamb-Yorski and Caitlin Thompson
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