Doug White III, chairman of the B.C. First Nations Justice Council. (Greg Sakaki/News Bulletin)

Doug White III, chairman of the B.C. First Nations Justice Council. (Greg Sakaki/News Bulletin)

Indigenous groups express concern over B.C. travel ban expanding police powers

‘We want to make sure necessary safeguards are in place to ensure the province isn’t putting forward direction that would expose Indigenous peoples to further policing’

Indigenous community groups and organizations across B.C. have outlined their concerns and frustrations about the new proposed travel restrictions in a letter addressed to B.C. Premier John Horgan.

On Monday, the province announced new travel restrictions prohibiting people from leaving their local health authority. The new order means that people could face a fine for non-essential travel, enforced through a roadside checkpoint program.

“The Minister of Public Safety will be using the Emergency Program Act to restrict people’s ability to move from one health authority to another,” said Horgan, during a press conference on Monday, April 19.

“It will be done in a way that includes everyone… and there will be consequences if you are outside of your area on non-essential business.”

Those consequences have not been clearly identified and Meghan McDermott, BC Civil Liberties Association policy director and staff counsel, said she is troubled by the “overly broad” policing powers the new order presents.

“This was announced without any further details,” said McDermott. “We’re just left to languish for the next few days wondering how we’re supposed to prepare for this. The idea of using police officers is really abhorrent to us. We know that police’s use of discretion tends to be discriminatory and harmfully impacts Black, Indigenous and other rationalized folks in B.C.”

Details about the new order are expected to be released on Friday and will remain in place until Monday, May 24 — after the long weekend.

Douglas White III, chair of the BC First Nations Justice Council, said that to date, they have not been engaged with on the issue.

“Part of the mandate of the BC First Nations Justice Council is to grapple with the reality of systemic racism across the justice system, including policing,” he said. “When we see this kind of initiative being put forward by the government it causes concern and alarm about deepening the problem, rather than resolving the problem. We want to make sure that…necessary safeguards and checks are in place to ensure that the province isn’t putting forward direction that would expose Indigenous peoples to further policing.”

The BC Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief Terry Teegee said he signed the letter to address the many unanswered questions.

“There’s definitely stereotypes and racism that exists within the system of policing and justice,” he said. “What are the overarching powers of the police force, and what will they impose on our people?”

The Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council (NTC) did not sign the letter but has long been asking the province for a Vancouver Island bubble to restrict travel. Similar to measures taken in the Maritimes, this would include a 14-day isolation period upon arrival, said Mariah Charleson, NTC vice-president.

“Our First Nations communities have already been implementing this since the very beginning of the pandemic with checkpoints and even curfews at some points,” she said. “As a Hesquiaht member, I still can’t go home.”

While the NTC is encouraged to see travel restrictions, Charleson said they are concerned about the new proposed policing measures.

“We want to see clear, concise information tomorrow that all of our members, regardless of where they reside in the province of B.C., understands,” she said. “And if they have a medical appointment, for example, in a different health region, that they will be able to freely .125attend.375 without harassment from the police or any type of enforcement.”

We have to respect that we’re in the third wave and do not know how the COVID-19 variants of concern will affect First Nations populations, said Teegee.

“But at the same time, we need to be concerned about our liberties,” he said. “We need to be very cautious about how decisions are made and make sure that First Nations are brought into the fold.”

For Teegee, the pandemic has served as a “cautionary tale.”

“Once again, First Nations authority and our jurisdiction is not considered,” he said. “That should be concerning to all Indigenous peoples.”

McDermott said she hopes to see evidence to support the province’s pending restrictions.

“We don’t have any of that information upfront,” she said. “We’re just asked to trust the government over and over and over again. And it’s difficult … we’re on the outside looking in.”

As international travellers continue to arrive at the Vancouver International Airport and out-of-province visitors drive across the provincial border into B.C., McDermott said she questions the province’s gaps in policy.

“The review of our legal options made it clear we can’t prevent people from travelling to British Columbia,” said Horgan, in a January news release. “We can impose restrictions on people travelling for non-essential purposes if they are causing harm to the health and safety of British Columbians. Much of current interprovincial travel is work-related and therefore cannot be restricted.”

To many, the idea of engaging with police officers is intimidating, said McDermott.

“When police are asking us questions and they’ve got all these weapons on their body, there’s such a power differential,” she said. “One of the core issues that we’re getting at in our letter is, what are the police powers? How much can they ask? And then, what do they do with the information that they receive?”

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

BC governmentJohn Horgan

Just Posted

Discovery House executive director Jerome Abraham in front of the third building, Parkers Place, for the addiction recovery program. (Brennan Phillips - Western News)
Discovery House opens Parkers Place in Penticton to provide transitionary care

The addiction recovery program is now able to provide support for as long as necessary

Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen offices in Penticton. (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen showcases local government

The RDOS has put together a video as part of Local Government Awareness Week

The warm weather means time for a camping trip, or at least an excursion into nature. How much do you know about camps and camping-related facts? (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
QUIZ: Are you ready to go camping?

How many camp and camping-related questions can you answer?

The future of the Okanagan Lake watershed land use will be subject of a new study supported by a $300,000 grant from the Vancouver Foundation. (Contributed)
Grant to help develop Okanagan Lake protection strategy

Study receives $300,000 grant from the Vancouver Foundation.

Doctor Jessica Luksts is being recognized on BC Family Doctor Day for her part in the early days of the pandemic. (Submitted)
Celebrate BC Family Doctor Day on May 19

The South Okanagan Similkameen has over 80 family doctors serving the community

Daily confirmed COVID-19 cases reported to B.C. public health, seven-day rolling average in white, to May 12, 2021. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C. preparing ‘Restart 2.0’ from COVID-19 as June approaches

Daily infections fall below 500 Friday, down to 387 in hospital

A man and woman, both 33 and from Kelowna, were arrested on Postill Lake Forest Service Road in possession of two stolen vehicles Friday, May 14, 2021. (File photo)
Kelowna duo arrested with stolen vehicles after ‘brief’ bicycle getaway attempt

A man and a woman were arrested on a forest service road on numerous pending charges

The BC Conservation Officer Service (COS) handed out fines to two anglers on Shuswap Lake who were both casting more than one line, in violation of provincial regulations, Saturday, May 15, 2021. (COS photo)
Conservation officers snag Shuswap anglers for unlawful fishing

Two anglers were given $150 fines for casting two lines at once, against provincial regulations

On Friday, May 14 at Meadow Gardens Golf Club in Pitt Meadows, Michael Caan joined a very elite club of golfers who have shot under 60 (Instagram)
Crowds at English Bay were blasted with a large beam of light from an RCMP Air-1 helicopter on Friday, May 14. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marc Grandmaison
Police enlist RCMP helicopter to disperse thousands crowded on Vancouver beach

On Friday night, police were witness to ‘several thousand people staying well into the evening’

Lynda Saundry, born 1961, is charged with the murder of North Okanagan resident Barry Jones in July 2020. Saundry will appear in Vernon court May 17, 2021, to fix a date for a preliminary inquiry. (Facebook public photo)
North Okanagan murder suspect to be tried by judge and jury

Lynda Saundry is charged with the first-degree murder of Barry Jones in July 2020

Vernon Search and Rescue’s Legacy vessel is returning to Okanagan Lake for boating season, the society said Friday, May 14, 2021. (VSAR photo)
Vernon Search and Rescue vessel returns to Okanagan Lake

VSAR’s Legacy is back with a fresh coat of paint and some other upgrades

People shop in Chinatown in Vancouver on Friday, February 5, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Vancouver community leaders call for action following 717% rise in anti-Asian hate crimes

‘The alarming rise of anti-Asian hate in Canada and south of the border shows Asians have not been fully accepted in North America,’ says Carol Lee

Sinikka Gay Elliott was reported missing on Salt Spring Island on Wednesday, May 12. (Courtesty Salt Spring RCMP)
Body of UBC professor found on Salt Spring Island, no foul play suspected

Sinikka Elliott taught sociology at the university

Most Read