Coronavirus
Politics

‘Please don’t put up blockades,’ NWT premier tells communities


The Premier of the Northwest Territories urged local leaders to dismantle checkpoints appearing outside some community boundaries as the Covid-19 pandemic continues.

The Kátł’odeeche First Nation established checkpoints in March. Fort Resolution’s Deninu Kue First Nation began doing so late last week after a Covid-19 case was confirmed in the community.

On Monday, the CBC reported Tuktoyaktuk had announced it would do the same.

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“We want to definitely advertise to the whole region, the whole North for that matter, that we don’t want any visitors in the community at this time. Unless it’s an emergency. Unless it’s essential services,” Mayor of Tuktoyaktuk Erwin Elias told the broadcaster.

On Tuesday, Premier Caroline Cochrane said her government would talk to communities about taking down their checkpoints. If talks fail, she said, “we will look at other measures.”

One of my priorities will be to phone the community to try to talk to the community, to hear them out.

PREMIER CAROLINE COCHRANE

The NWT government says its state of emergency provides legal authority for any municipal orders creating checkpoints to be overridden.

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“I recognize that people are afraid. Communities are afraid. The world is afraid,” Cochrane told reporters. “However, we cannot make decisions based on fear. We need to make decisions based on best practices and the best things for all of our communities.

“Please, don’t put up blockades. Don’t do the checkstops. There are many more things you could be doing in your communities to assist us.

“I’m worried about the risk … the potential for violence when people are out there on their own who don’t have the authority to be there.”

Leaders in several communities have expressed concern about what they see as a lack of support and communication from the NWT government.

In particular, Fort Resolution’s leaders have queried why they were not told of a positive Covid-19 case in their community. The NWT government says sharing that information could affect the privacy of the patient and is against the law.

“People become angry in these situations due to a fear of the unknown,” Chief Louis Balsillie, of the Deninu Kue First Nation, wrote in a letter to the NWT government about that approach. “Your policy created an unknown.”

Checkpoint ‘will not prevent Covid-19’

On Tuesday, Cochrane acknowledged her government had, “at first,” experienced some communications issues with local and regional leaders.

Cochrane spoke as she assumed the role of municipal and community affairs minister alongside her title of premier. Taking both roles gives her direct and sole oversight of the territory’s emergency management team responding to the pandemic.

The Department of Municipal and Community Affairs is also the department responsible for maintaining relations with communities regarding issues like access to and from those communities.

“A checkpoint at the beginning of your community is not going to prevent Covid-19,” Cochrane said.

“The thing that will prevent it will be listening to the chief public health officer and keeping your distance. That is the answer. It is not about violence, it is not about checkpoints.”

Still, Cochrane said, she would not authorize her government to physically dismantle existing checkstops.

“I don’t believe that walking in and trying to dismantle is going to be a great answer. The first step is a conversation,” she said.

“I’ve just assumed this position today. One of my priorities will be to phone the community to try to talk to the community, to hear them out, to try to look at more constructive ways we can work together to protect their communities and make their people feel safe.

“If necessary, after that, then we will look at other measures. We are not there yet.”

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