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‘Give us some time’ to prepare for reopening from COVID-19 lockdown, Kanesatake grand chief says

Coronavirus: Kanesatake checkpoints remain in place at Oka provincial park
Kanesatake Mohawks continue to restrict access to Oka provincial park after it was partially reopened from the COVID-19 lockdown. As Global's Brayden Jagger Haines reports, the checkpoints will remain in effect until the community feels safe.

As members of the Mohawk community maintain checkpoints at Oka’s provincial park, the grand chief of Kanesatake is asking for more time to prepare as Quebec lifts restrictions related to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Serge Simon said on Thursday that the province did not adequately consult the community on reopening the park.

“The Quebec government failed in its duty, and we have to take action,” said Simon.

Simon added there are concerns over triggering a second wave of infections as Quebec begins to scale back restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.

“The virus, the pandemic, is not over yet,” he said.

READ MORE: Kanesatake Mohawks blocking access to Oka provincial park as grand chief cites COVID-19 fears

Most provincial parks in Quebec had a limited reopening on Wednesday under new guidelines including social-distancing measures. As part of the plan, some activities remain off limits, and bathrooms and facilities are not accessible.

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Quebec’s junior education minister, who unveiled the plan last week, said that parks reopening should not be a pretext for large gatherings or travelling to other regions.

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Simon said on Thursday that many of the people turned away at checkpoints on their way to Oka were from Montreal, the epicentre of the virus’s outbreak in Canada.

He said there are fears over bringing the virus into Kanesatake, which has mostly been unscathed by the pandemic, and that is why leaders want more time to prepare for reopening. Quebec leads the country in cases and deaths attributable to COVID-19.

The priority is to protect vulnerable members of the community such as elders and those with health issues, according to Simon.

“Give us some time,” said Simon. “That’s all we’re asking, really.”

READ MORE: Quebec provincial parks partially reopen as province permits some sports to resume

Oka Mayor Pascal Quevillon told Global News he was disappointed to see the checkpoints from the adjacent community still in place on Thursday morning. He claimed they make residents feel uneasy.

“It’s very sad to see this again this morning,” he said.

While Quevillon said he understands health concerns and protecting residents from the respiratory illness, he said there also has to be a return to a somewhat normal life.

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“COVID-19 is there to stay, and we have to learn to live with COVID-19,” he said, citing Quebec’s plan to allow limited gatherings as of Friday.

A spokesperson for Quebec’s Indigenous affairs minister said in an emailed statement that blocking access to the park is not the answer for protecting residents in Kanesatake and Oka from the virus. The minister is reportedly in contact with both leaders.

“Regional public health is in discussion with the grand chief of Kanesatake to plan a deconfinement plan that will respond to the concerns of the most vulnerable population,” the statement said.

Coronavirus outbreak: Kanesatake community protects itself against COVID-19
Coronavirus outbreak: Kanesatake community protects itself against COVID-19

With files from Global News’ Brayden Jagger Haines and the Canadian Press