Manitoba First Nations call on RCMP, Armed Forces to monitor COVID-19 checkstops

By | March 31, 2020

The advocacy group for 26 First Nations communities in Manitoba’s north is calling on the RCMP and Canadian Armed Forces to monitor checkstops set up to prevent visitors from possibly bringing COVID-19 into their communities.

Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Inc. also wants the province to help monitor check stops on highways 6 and 10 as well as Provincial Road 483.

Several Manitoba First Nations have set up mandatory checkstops in recent weeks as part of an effort to protect their communities from COVID-19.

Two Manitoba First Nations have also asked Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan to establish a military hospital in their region in anticipation of an outbreak of COVID-19.

​​So far there has been one confirmed case of COVID-19 in Manitoba’s Northern Health Region. The province hasn’t said what community the case is in​ but Manitoba’s chief public health officer, Dr. Brent Roussin, said Tuesday ​there were no positive patients in First Nations communities. 

MKO is also asking Manitoba Hydro to close the Keeyask construction site over fears the roughly 600 workers on-site could bring COVID-19 to nearby First Nations. Hydro said it has already scaled back its workforce on the site and taken extra precautions including suspending gym classes and switching the meal hall from a dining centre to a take-out only service.

Vehicles stopped at a provincial check point Saturday at the Manitoba-Ontario border where officials are handing out information about COVID-19. (Travis Golby/CBC)

The group is also calling for the closure of Manitoba Liquor Marts in the north. If closures aren’t possible, the group is asking for a purchase limit to be put in place to reduce the sale of liquor by bootleggers in northern First Nations.

The Manitoba government has already set up check points of its own at provincial borders. Staff at the check points are telling drivers entering the province to self-isolate for 14 days with a few exceptions. 

Floriane Bonneville, Sajjan’s press secretary, said in a statement Tuesday night the health and safety of Canadians and Indigenous communities is the government’s top priority.

“We understand that Indigenous, Northern and Arctic communities are especially vulnerable to COVID-19,” the defence minister’s spokesperson said. 

“We are working closely with Indigenous Services, Public Safety Canada and other federal and provincial government departments to determine next steps.”

CBC has asked Manitoba Hydro, Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries, RCMP and the province for a response to MKO’s calls Tuesday.

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