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'We are scared': Haida Gwaii residents protest arrival of BC Ferries amid COVID-19
VICTORIA -- People living on Haida Gwaii are increasingly concerned that visitors might bring COVID-19 to their remote community.
On Monday, hundreds of people arrived at the island's ferry terminal to protest the arrival of a BC Ferries vessel from Prince Rupert.
Old Massett’s Chief Councillor Donald Edgars told CTV News Vancouver Island that he put a call out asking residents to show up and protest visitors coming to the area.
“Every time the ferry comes in we are a little bit uneasy, we are scared for a lot of our elders and our communities to get it,” said Edgars.
“A lot of our youth don’t live back at home so the majority of our people that live on Haida Gwaii are elderly people.”
Queen Charlotte RCMP Sgt. Greg Willcocks said officers were at the protest and things were peaceful.
“We were aware there was going to be a protest at the ferry,” said Willcocks. “We liasied with them to come up with a plan on how it could be done safely.”
Old Massett resident Cynthia Samuels said seeing the visitors come to the island makes her nervous.
“We do we have that right to protect our people and our land,” said Samuels.
Edgars said the region's lone hospital could be easily overrun in an outbreak.
“We are limited on Haida Gwaii with resources. We only have one hospital and one respiratory [unit],” he said. “We welcome you in the future, once the pandemic is over, to come to Haida Gwaii, but just not at this time.”
B.C.’s top doctor said on Monday that First Nations communities like Haida Gwaii can restrict access to outsiders.
“They do have the ability and authorities to make those decision for their communities,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry.
Island Health’s chief medial officer Dr. Richard Stanwick warned that people may be travelling for other reasons, not necessarily leisure.
“We need to transport food, medications and other necessary goods,” said Stanwick. “People may live in one community and work in another.”
Edgars said that almost all of the 32 people on board the vessel on Monday were essential service workers or locals, but there was one person who was not a resident.
“We had one that agreed to turn around and head back on the ferry this morning,” said Edgar. “That is all it really takes on Haida Gwaii is one person to infect the whole community.”
BC Ferries spokesperson Deborah Marshall said they have signs posted saying Haida Gwaii is not welcoming visitors and they are making an announcement on the vessel to Haida Gwaii.
“BC Ferries is not authorized to restrict travel,” said Marshall.
Edgars said the community is considering blocking access entirely and will be watching traffic closely as the Victoria Day long weekend approaches.
“We may have to do that. We don’t want to put our elders at risk, they are our knowledge keepers and we would hate to lose that to them passing to COVID-19,” said Edgars.