Non-residents arriving in Skidegate will be asked to keep on driving now that the band council’s Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) has erected an “information checkpoint” to stop the spread of COVID-19 within their jurisdiction on-reserve.
Chief councillor Billy Yovanovich told the Observer the checkpoint consists of traffic cones as well as employees with stop signs and a list of questions, such as how long the driver and passengers have been on-island, why they’re here if they’re non-residents, and whether or not they’ve self-isolated.
It went up around 7 p.m. on Thursday night just past the ferry terminal heading north, in time for what Yovanovich said will be their priority: the ferry arriving from Prince Rupert.
“We’re checking for non-island residents now,” he said. “If you’re a non-island resident, we want you to drive right through Skidegate.”
The EOC made the unprecedented decision to erect checkpoints after listening to local medical leaders and Northern Health representatives talk about the limited capacity to deal with an outbreak of the virus on-island.
“We’re almost already at capacity just from day-to-day medical issues,” Yovanovich said.
Soon the chief councillor hopes a second checkpoint will be erected at the other end of the reserve.
“We’d like to get to seven days a week, it’s just a matter of do we have enough people to do it,” he said of staffing.
The EOC is also looking into shutting down industrial roads to non-residents, such as people who come to Haida Gwaii to hunt.
“We want the outside world to know that now is just not a good time to be coming to Haida Gwaii,” he said. “This is for their safety as well as ours.”
If non-residents refuse to drive through Skidegate without making any stops, Yovanovich said staff will get their license plate and contact the RCMP, who are aware of the checkpoints.
He added that Skidegate will “welcome people back with open arms” after the pandemic passes.
“It’s an information stop so I’m hoping people are going to be patient with us,” he said.
Sgt. Greg Willcocks of the Queen Charlotte RCMP later confirmed the detachment was aware of the information checkpoint.
“I think most island residents support it and we’re here to support them,” Willcocks said.
He also said that drivers are not being stopped, turned around, arrested or detained.
“If people want to continue driving through the highway they’re more than able to,” he said. “The RCMP are not arresting or detaining anyone for doing that.”
However, he said if there is an issue at a checkpoint, such as a disturbance or dangerous driving, the RCMP will attend.
“If there’s an issue at one of the checkpoints then we would go there and keep the peace.”
Several other First Nation communities in B.C. had also erected checkpoints when the Skidegate EOC put theirs in place, including 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.
The Skidegate Band Council, along with the Council of the Haida Nation, Old Massett Village Council, Village of Queen Charlotte, Village of Port Clements, Village of Masset and the North Coast Regional District, announced a local state of emergency on March 23 due to COVID-19. The state of local emergency is what activated its EOC.
On March 26, under B.C.’s Emergency Program Act, Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth suspended states of local emergency except for those issued by the City of Vancouver and First Nations communities.
States of emergency declared by First Nations are under federal jurisdiction.
BC Ferries has asked customers not to travel with them if they are sick and that passengers only use ferries for essential travel.
Staff have always reserved the right to prohibit people from travelling, though that right is typically used for people who are intoxicated or abusive to staff and other passengers.
— With files from Monica Lamb-Yorski, Marc Kitteringham and Caitlin Thompson
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