An Indigenous group in Saskatchewan is criticizing the province’s management of checkpoints that are meant to protect northern communities experiencing outbreaks of COVID-19.
Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) Chief Bobby Cameron says in a news release that the province was quick to take over local checkpoints, but his group is now getting calls that officers are stopping northerners from travelling south to get groceries.
Beauval Mayor Nick Daigneault says in the release that he was assured by the government that community members would be allowed to travel for groceries after their only grocery store was closed due to COVID-19.
Chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab expressed concern last week about an outbreak of COVID-19 in La Loche, a Dene village about 600 kilometres northwest of Saskatoon, and the Saskatchewan Health Authority has also declared an outbreak in Beauval.
The Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency said in an email that travel within the northern region is allowed for residents, but that people should not travel for food or medical care if it’s already available within their own community.
The email conceded that not all checkpoints are staffed 24/7, but that they all have permanent signage.
“Limiting non-essential travel helps prevent the spread of COVID-19 into communities throughout the province,” the government email stated.
Shahab told a news conference last week that aggressive contact tracing was underway in La Loche and that between 50 to 100 health authority staff are set to be in the community for added support.
The virus is spreading through the community after someone who had been in northern Alberta brought it into the region.
The public safety agency email noted checkpoints are staffed by the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency, along with provincial protection and response team members, which it says includes highway patrol and conservation officers.
It also noted RCMP have increased patrols on roads in the Northern Saskatchewan Administration District.
Daigneault said his community had hired its own security companies to monitor the checkpoints, but said the government came in “hard, fast and very disorganized.”
“The province says they want to work with us, but our input and efforts are being ignored,” he said.
Cameron, meanwhile, suggested in the news release that the outbreaks could have been prevented if the province had heeded his organization’s calls for checkpoints and border closures earlier.