A regional district in British Columbia is calling for the province to close its boundary with Alberta to all non-essential travel.
The Regional District of East Kootenay outlined that request, along with closing private and “backcountry” camping, in a letter to Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry. Other provinces have taken steps to require self-isolation for all interprovincial travellers or have set up checkpoints to screen people crossing boundaries.
Rob Gay, chair of the regional district, said he’s concerned that tourism and unnecessary travel from Alberta, as well as within B.C., could lead to outbreaks and put unneeded stress on small hospitals and communities.
“We appreciate them coming because it’s a huge economic driver for us. Our tourism sector, we worked hard to build that over time. But this is not the time to be coming,” said Mr. Gay, who added his board is also requesting that campgrounds have signage indicating their closing and be monitored.
The RDEK is located in southeastern B.C., sharing a boundary with Alberta. A key recreational activity is camping.
“With Easter weekend coming up quickly, we are expecting to see large numbers of people coming into the area for an informal mud-bogging event that most years brings several thousand people,” Mr. Gay said in his letter to Dr. Henry.
“With health services in the East Kootenay based on permanent populations, an influx of people could put a strain on our resources.”
In the Interior Health Region, which includes the RDEK, there have been 128 positive cases of COVID-19.
When asked if she would consider the RDEK board’s request, Dr. Henry said she didn’t think it was in her power to close the boundary to non-essential travel and didn’t believe it was a necessary step.
“I think all of us are taking very similar measures so I would encourage everybody here in B.C. to do what we need to do and I know that my colleagues in Alberta are doing the same with people in Alberta," she said.
Alberta Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw restated her request to Albertans to avoid unnecessary travel during recent COVID-19 updates.
“Please do not plan to travel to vacation homes, especially those in other provinces and smaller communities," Dr. Hinshaw said during an April 3 update.
Errol Mendes, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Ottawa, said restricting domestic travel is in violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but not completely off the table.
“It doesn’t stop governments from having these types of limitations, but because of the special nature of this right, they have to show strong evidence of why it is a reasonable and proportionate limit on any attempt to limit mobility rights in this country,” Dr. Mendes explained, adding he couldn’t remember other situations where provinces took steps to close boundaries.
“But it is so important for governments, in advance of doing anything, [to] make it crystal clear what the rationale is, in advance, [and] what the scope is.”
In Saskatchewan, the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations urged Premier Scott Moe to close the province’s boundaries.
“Travellers from all over Canada continue to travel into Saskatchewan and could be unknowingly transmitting COVID-19,” Chief Bobby Cameron said in a statement March 21.
Saskatchewan has not closed its boundaries to non-essential travellers, but on March 30, Mr. Moe told reporters he’s recommending residents refrain from interprovincial travel.
Some provinces and territories, including Nunavut and New Brunswick, have already taken that step, closing their boundaries to all non-essential travel. In Quebec, stringent police checkpoints have been set up on bridges and ferries to eliminate non-essential travel into the province.
Yukon and a number of provinces require travellers to self-isolate when entering the region.
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