A road checkpoint at Enterprise on August 25, 2023. Photo: Submitted
Police in the NWT say they will repel a group of “as many as 50 vehicles” said to be planning a return home en masse from Alberta to Yellowknife.
RCMP said on Wednesday they had been tipped off that dozens of vehicles were planning to make the trip as a unit, with those involved reportedly asserting they would “not stop for the checkpoints.”
There are currently checkpoints on Highway 1 near Enterprise and on Highway 3 between Behchokǫ̀ and Yellowknife.
Highway 1 north of the Alberta border has been closed for more than a day because of wildfires and smoke in the area, a closure that continued as of 10:30am on Wednesday.
Stressing government advice that returning is not yet safe, and the recent danger to various highways from wildfires and smoke, police said: “If you are not approved for re-entry, you will be turned away. Anyone who engages in activity that risks the safety of Department of Infrastructure staff or RCMP officers at the checkpoints may face prosecution.”
RCMP have already said breaking an evacuation order can result in up to a year in jail or a fine of up to $5,000, though police have stated they are trying to avoid resorting to charges where possible.
“The communities under evacuation are not prepared for a mass return of residents and there are limited resources in the communities that are intended to support firefighting efforts and essential personnel,” police stated.
“The RCMP have the authority under the Emergency Management Act to enforce the checkpoints.”
“We understand that people want to come home,” RCMP spokesperson Cpl Matt Halstead was quoted as saying, “but this type of activity has the potential to drain resources and delay the receipt of essential supplies for firefighting efforts. Trying to return to any of these communities en masse would be irresponsible and threatens to exacerbate already difficult conditions.”
NWT and Alberta RCMP said they are “continuing to investigate this matter.”