UPDATE: 5:30 p.m., Wednesday, June 17
The Village of Queen Charlotte council held a special meeting this afternoon to rescind the resolution made at the June 15 regular council meeting.
The requirement for public notice was waived by unanimous vote of all council members per Bylaw 36-2020 VQC Council Procedures.
According to a Facebook post, council made a new resolution at the special meeting “that better reflects the intentions of their support for a cautious and thoughtful approach to the islands discussions on non-essential travel restrictions.”
The new resolution is that the Village “respectfully advocates at the Protocol Table for a removal of the non-essential travel restriction on Haida Gwaii three weeks behind when the province announces resumption of leisure travel” and “support the position that is achieved through consensus at the Protocol Table.”
The new resolution also “recognizes that the Council of the Haida Nation holds sole right to restrict travel to their territory, which encompasses all of Haida Gwaii, including municipal areas.”
“Furthermore, be it resolved that the Village of Queen Charlotte would support putting these travel restrictions back in place at a later time if warranted because of community spread or an increase in cases within our region and province,” the new resolution said.
ORIGINAL: 3:45 p.m., Wednesday, June 17
The Village of Queen Charlotte mayor is expected to propose a July 1 reopening of Haida Gwaii to non-essential visitors from other parts of the province at the Island Protocol Table (IPT) meeting tonight, assuming confirmed cases of COVID-19 continue to trend downward in B.C.
Not a final decision, the proposal follows discussion and a non-unanimous vote at the Village of Queen Charlotte regular council meeting on June 15.
During the meeting, Mayor Kris Olsen said council had to determine its position on reopening so that he could provide input at the June 17 IPT meeting, during which there will be further discussion by the leaders of all island communities.
Councillor Jesse Embree also emphasized “the Village of Queen Charlotte doesn’t have the authority to reopen Haida Gwaii.”
“We are on Haida territory,” Embree said, noting that on April 27, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry reinforced the fact that Indigenous communities “have the ability and the authority to make decisions for their communities.”
Embree said he still hoped for a unified decision on reopening, but it was also important for him to represent the voices of his constituents.
“I support reopening on July 1,” he said, noting that reopening would only apply to visitors from other parts of the province, per the four-phase Restart B.C. plan.
The Restart B.C. plan is currently in Phase 2, which includes avoiding non-essential travel between communities, but Henry hinted on June 15 that the province will be looking at transitioning around safe travel within B.C.
With there currently being no confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Haida Gwaii, or in the Northern, Interior or Vancouver Island health regions, Embree said “the biggest worry [he hears] in the community right now is the economic uncertainty for people across the island, and the financial and mental impacts that this is having on our community.”
As many as 70 per cent of local businesses could permanently close if the island were to remain shut to non-essential travel, he said.
“That’s not tenable if we’re going to maintain our community into the future.”
While Embree said reopening for an abridged tourist season “would be a challenge,” he thought “the damage that could result from not reopening is greater than if we were to remain closed.”
“I would hope that the Council of the Haida Nation (CHN), the Skidegate Band and the Massett Band Council can see what harm is potentially being done,” he said. “These aren’t just businesses in the municipalities, these are businesses in Skidegate, in Old Massett … this affects everybody.”
Councillor Lisa Pineault said she was previously in favour of maintaining a “Haida Gwaii bubble,” but she thought the situation had changed.
“My heart says shut down, but my head says we need to be good neighbours, to the people in the tourist industry and the business community,” she said.
“Most tourist businesses and owners have not qualified for the government COVID assistance programs and now are in dire financial situations, and are looking to us for leadership.”
Pineault referred to a May 28 letter that was included in the council agenda package, signed by Northern Haida Gwaii Hospital chief of staff Dr. Caroline Walker and Xaayda Gwaay Ngaaysdll Naay chief of staff Dr. Gordon Horner.
In the letter, Walker and Horner shared their medical perspective to inform local leadership in the transition to Phase 2 of the Restart B.C. plan, which began on May 19.
After touching on recent improvements, such as more widely available and faster testing, the doctors wrote that they hoped provincially and locally, people will follow the advice of Henry.
“The fastest time to develop a vaccine at present is four years. There has never been a successful vaccine against a coronavirus,” they wrote. “The harms to physical and mental health if Haida Gwaii were to remain in a Phase 1 lockdown while awaiting a vaccine or definitive treatment would soon be greater than the harms of even an unrestricted spread of COVID-19.”
Pineault said she agreed that “this is our new normal.”
“We need to learn how to live in this circumstance as we may be in the same position for many years,” she said.
Councillor Richard Decembrini said that after reading the letter from the local physicians, he also supported a July 1 reopening of Haida Gwaii to B.C. tourists.
“It’s not going to be enough just to have those CERB payments come in,” Decembrini said.
Olsen was the only one opposed to proposing a July 1 reopening at the IPT meeting, but said he would support the decision made by council.
He said he had spoken with representatives from the Skidegate Band Council, Old Masset Village Council and CHN, and they did not want to reopen to non-essential travel.
“I think we have to respect the Council of the Haida Nation’s position that there is a history of genocide on this island with smallpox and previous pandemics, and they have concern and they are addressing that concern,” he said before the motion was carried.
More to come.
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