The Old Massett Village Council (OMVC) announced on Sunday that three gates would be set up at New Town, Yakan Point and Old Massett to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 on Haida Gwaii.
A letter from the OMVC Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) team said chief and council passed a unanimous motion to erect the gates on April 3.
According to the letter, the three gates are located along the road and have volunteer gatekeepers present to provide information to both non-residents as well as residents. The gatekeepers will be asking individuals a list of questions and informing any non-residents of the state of local emergency that was announced on March 23.
They will also be letting any non-residents know that “Haida Gwaii is asking that they depart the islands as soon as possible until non-essential travel is permitted on the islands.”
“We need to ensure that we are assertive and respectful in this situation, and ensure that visitors have a plan for accessing essential services in a way that doesn’t put themselves and others at risk,” the letter said.
Residents will be informed of the state of local emergency and measures that have been put in place to prevent the spread of the virus.
On April 15, EOC coordinator Teri Kish told Black Press Media the volunteer gatekeepers have been at the gates on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays when a ferry arrives.
Kish also said the gates were erected because non-residents and travellers were still arriving in Old Massett “every time a ferry comes in.”
“It’s quite frustrating,” she said.
Black Press Media has reached out to Masset RCMP for comment.
On April 2, the Skidegate Band Council EOC erected an information checkpoint just past the ferry terminal on Highway 16, heading north.
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, who would be advising non-residents not to stop within their jurisdiction on-reserve.
“We’re checking for non-island residents now,” Yovanovich said. “If you’re a non-island resident, we want you to drive right through Skidegate.”
Sgt. Greg Willcocks of the Queen Charlotte RCMP confirmed the detachment was aware of the information checkpoint and would attend if an issue is reported, such as a disturbance or dangerous driving.
Willcocks 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.”
Several other First Nation communities in B.C. have also erected checkpoints, 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.
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.
— With files from Monica Lamb-Yorski and Caitlin Thompson
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