The provincial government says it’s aware of concerns raised about their COVID-19 response in a letter from commander Rick Laliberte of the North West Communities Incident Command Centre, and plan to evaluate each one individually.
Although leaders addressed the letter to Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab, it was Premier Scott Moe and Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency (SPSA) president Marlo Pritchard who responded to the criticism on Monday.
Laliberte wrote the letter on behalf of the Treaty Ten Pandemic Council. In it, he criticized the governments implementation of the Public Health Order through road block points in the north, along with the lack of mental health supports, poor food security and “complete disintegration of homecare services.”
Pritchard said they are aware of these concerns and working to deal with them as fast as they can.
“We recognize that there are challenges and issues that have been raised with us,” he said during Monday’s COVID-19 update. “We are looking at each one individually and trying to address them as they come out.”
Laliberte also criticized the SPSA for not having enough Indigenous people and Indigenous language speakers at roadblocks. There are three Indigenous languages spoken in the north.
He also wrote that information given out those roadblocks was incorrect or contradictory, and that check point staff were not honouring letters from Chiefs and Council authorizing outside travel. He argued that the strict guidelines violated treaty and Indigenous rights.
“As raised in a conversation with Minister Lori Carr, many of our young people have jobs outside of the region, on rotation in Saskatoon and Alberta,” the letter reads. “Minister Carr allayed our concerns, and left us with the impression that our people could travel to prevent job losses.”
Laliberte was also concerned about whether fire suppression crews could freely travel around the north during wildfire season.
He acknowledged that the COVID-19 pandemic was clearly and unprecedented crisis, and expressed gratefulness to frontline healthcare workers and RCMP officers serving in the far north. However, Laliberte said communication and collaboration between northern leaders and the provincial government needs to improve.
Premier Scott Moe defended his government’s handling of the COVID-19 outbreak in the far north during a media update on Monday. He said Carr and others have been in regular contact with groups like the Meadow Lake Tribal Council and Prince Albert Grand Council, in addition to weekly calls with northern mayors.
“The decisions that have been made in the northwest have been consulted on with leaders across the northwest, across the north and across the province for that matter,” he told reporters. “With respect to the north, they have most certainly shaped the decisions that have affected their communities.”
Moe also defended using road blocks and travel bans to halt the virus’ spread, calling them the most effect tool in the government’s tool box.
“That’s how we limit he spread of this virus, by limiting travel within our community, limiting our travel between our communities,” he said. “The checkpoints are there for that specific reason.”