The Village of Queen Charlotte Emergency Operations Centre announced on Tuesday, June 2, 2020 that its anonymous reporting line had been deactivated. (Karissa Gall/Haida Gwaii Observer)

Village of Queen Charlotte deactivates controversial ‘snitch line’

Emergency Operations Centre announced the anonymous reporting line was deactivated with no reports

The Village of Queen Charlotte anonymous reporting line has been deactivated.

In an update from the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) on June 2, staff announced the line had been deactivated and had zero reports of non-compliance with pandemic rules.

The update also said the decision was a result of the EOC scaling back to a lower activation level.

“Today, June 2, 2020, we are scaling back our EOC to a Level 1,” the update said. “At this stage we are focused on being prepared and on standby in case of any changes.”

Prior to scaling back, the EOC had been activated at a Level 2 since March 18.

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The decision to deactivate the line followed harsh criticism from many residents, who dubbed it a “snitch line.”

In a Facebook post on May 12, the village said it appreciated the concerns about the line and understood them.

“The idea of this was in response to negativity seen on social media toward fellow community members and also to avoid face-to-face aggression,” the post said. “If reports are received through this form, we have dedicated personnel to follow up with the individual with compassion and empathy to their situation.”

Fifteen people commented on the post, saying the line was still a “deeply problematic solution,” “divides the community,” “smacks of McCarthyism” and more.

At the following regular council meeting, on May 20, a member of the public who provided input virtually said they were concerned about the “snitch line” because they thought it sent a poor message to the community that citizens are not to be trusted and respect each other.

Another member of the public said community members judging each other without proper investigation echoed back to the use of secret police.

Asked if the line was a council decision, chief administrative officer Lori Weideman, who is also the director of the EOC, said no, it was a decision made by the EOC.

Councillor Jesse Embree said the line was not created to encourage snitching, but to offer a less confrontational way for people to inform the EOC about concerns, such as non-compliance to the emergency measures or community members not following self-isolation when returning to the island.

“I don’t think we’re encouraging people to snitch on each other, but if you’re in a situation where you don’t feel comfortable approaching somebody … then there’s some avenue or recourse for them without having to confront somebody or go attack them on social media and I think that there is some value there,” Embree said.

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Discussion about the line continued at the regular council meeting on June 1, with two former mayors speaking out against it.

Carol Kulesha said she remained “deeply disturbed” by the line, and Greg Martin said to “get rid of the snitch line as soon as possible.”

Mayor Kris Olsen replied that no one was using the line.

Later in the meeting, Janine North provided more virtual input, that the line should be disconnected.

“As there have been no calls to that number I believe community members have shown kindness, compassion, restraint, maturity and respect, and the phone number should be abolished,” she said.

Embree said EOC staff had created the line as part of their work to try to keep the community safe and some of the rhetoric he had heard used was disrespectful.

“If you don’t feel comfortable talking to your neighbour about it, this was a way to do it. Nobody’s used it,” he said.

“I’ve seen more people get up in arms about it than we’ve had calls come in through it.”

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At the time of publication, the City of Toronto website allowed residents to report breaches of pandemic rules.

The New Brunswick government had also stirred controversy when it launched a COVID-19 information line where residents could report any non-compliance.

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The June 2 update from the EOC said that as part of the lower activation level, the dedicated COVID-19 helpline (250-637-1780) became a line to reach the community support officer, who was continuing to assist local businesses to become “COVID-19 ready” and stay in business safely.

Correction: This story has been updated. Food deliveries coordinated by the Island Wellness Society were expected to continue until at least the end of August. Victim services and outreach coordinator Bonnie Olson told the Observer they would not be ramping down between now and the end of August like the June 2 update from the EOC had suggested.

— With files from The Canadian Press

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