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Alberta Hutterite colonies facing coronavirus-related discrimination

Click to play video 'Some Hutterite colonies in Alberta facing discrimination over COVID-19' Some Hutterite colonies in Alberta facing discrimination over COVID-19
WATCH: The Town of Claresholm, The M.D of Willow Creek and MLA Roger Reid have issued a joint statement condemning any discrimination against Hutterites after some members in the area tested positive for the novel coronavirus. Quinn Campbell explains – Jul 16, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story originally said that there are 19 active cases in the M.D. of Willow Creek which was incorrect. It has been updated to say there are 10 active cases. We regret the error.

The mayor of Claresholm, Alta., believes a recent spike in cases of COVID-19 in the M.D of Willow Creek has caused a buzz of rumours and gossip, and he wants to put an end to it.

“It started off with rumours that there was some COVID cases within some of the colonies within our M.D. That escalated to where there was a bit of paranoia around town,” said Mayor Doug MacPherson.

He said that paranoia and concern lead to discrimination towards Hutterites in the area, promoting a joint release denouncing any descrimination towards colonies in the Claresholm area.

Read more: County of Warner sees spike in COVID-19 cases, possible link to funerals being investigated

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The statement reads, in part, “An outbreak of COVID-19 has affected the Hutterite colonies in the Claresholm Area. The colonies are working with AHS to quarantine and stop the spread of the virus where necessary. There have been reports of discrimination towards individuals in the local Hutterite community from local businesses and people of Claresholm.

“The Government of Alberta, the Municipal District of Willow Creek, and the Town of Claresholm do not tolerate any form of discrimination. Those who are affected or at risk of infection are under quarantine and following the recommendations from Alberta Health Services.”

The Willow Creek Hutterite colony was wrongly named in the original release issued, which has since been corrected. It said that specific colony had an outbreak and was under quarantine.

Click to play video 'Coronavirus: Saskatchewan health officials actively engaged with Hutterite community after COVID-19 outbreak declared' Coronavirus: Saskatchewan health officials actively engaged with Hutterite community after COVID-19 outbreak declared
Coronavirus: Saskatchewan health officials actively engaged with Hutterite community after COVID-19 outbreak declared – Jun 18, 2020

MLA Roger Reid confirmed it was an error.

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Willow Creek Colony boss Robert Waldner told Global News that, as of Thursday, his colony has zero confirmed cases of COVID-19. He added no one from AHS has visited the colony and it’s never been put under quarantine.

Members of his colony, he said, have experienced discrimination from businesses and people in Claresholm, and this latest misinformation has caused even more chaos.

MacPherson said even though the error was not made by him or his office, he knows it has caused the colony negative attention.

“We are not privy to which colonies are affected or not affected, we would never point at one,” MacPherson said. “Unfortunately that caused some backlash for that colony.

“Although we didn’t do it, I would like to apologize on behalf of Claresholm.”

Alberta Health Services said it’s investigating a number of COVID-19 cases on Hutterite colonies within the province and there is minimal risk to the general public.

Read more: Sask. working with Alberta after spike in coronavirus cases connected to Hutterite colonies

In part, a statement from AHS reads that the agency “implements 14-day quarantine measures on Hutterite Colonies that have a confirmed or probable case of COVID-19. This is a standard practice with individuals who have been in contact with a positive case of COVID-19, just on a larger scale given the communal living within colonies.”

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“We have received assurances from AHS — and we are confident in these assurances — that the … self-isolation requirements of both the individuals who have tested positive and those they have come in contact within their respective communities are being strictly adhered to,” said Reeve Maryanne Sandberg.

“Discrimination of identifiable groups is not in keeping with our tradition as a community. We must remember that as this crisis passes that we will continue to be neighbours and friends and, as such, we must govern our behaviour, words and actionswith this certain knowledge.”

AHS also said in its statement that confidentiality of positive COVID-19 individuals or groups is paramount. There is a perceived risk of negative cultural targeting, impact on individuals or families from a specific colony, as well as profiling for all Hutterites and potential risk to their business names.

As of Thursday, the M.D of Willow Creek listed 25 total cases of COVID-19, with 10 active.