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Fort Chipewyan COVID-19 curfew bylaw deferred

IMAGE. Supplied by the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo.

RMWB Council voted to defer the “Fort Chipewyan Social Distancing Enforcement” Bylaw.

Mayor and Councillors will speak with the rural hamlet’s Indigenous leadership at a Special Council meeting.

The administration said the meeting will take place as soon as practical.

The bylaw would work in conjunction with COVID-19 public health orders from the Alberta Chief Medical Officer of Health.

Delegates from the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) asked RMWB Council vote down the motion to enact the bylaw.

Jay Telegdi said the ACFN, Mikisew Cree First Nation, and Métis Local 125 signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU).

He said they believed the bylaw would include a town-wide curfew from 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m.

Telegdi called the bylaw unfair and against the wishes of Indigenous communities and if approved would have negative consequences.

“One, where largely well-off non-Indigenous people in the urban [service] area can walk around violating social distancing with impunity, and another where Indigenous residents of Fort Chipewyan, who are among the poorest of the region, would face stiff financial penalties for doing the same thing.”

Blue Eyes Simpson also asked RMWB Council to include the curfew.

Fort Chipewyan leaders originally asked for a curfew for the hamlet’s youth and young adults.

Simpson said the RMWB recommended applying the curfew for all citizens of Fort Chipewyan.

According to RMWB Legal Services, one could challenge a bylaw targeting a subset of the population.

Mayor Don Scott, who would vote against the deferral, introduced an amendment adding a curfew.

He recalled the MOU, which includes signatures from ACFN Chief Allan Adam, Mikisew Cree Chief Archie Waquan, and Métis Local 125 President Cam MacDonald.

“We need to respect that is the will of an Indigenous government, and we passed a motion saying that we were going to try to implement the requests of our Indigenous and rural communities, and this is a request of a rural and Indigenous community.”

Mayor Scott made reference to the motion passed on March 27.

READ MORE: Debate heated over COVID-19 Pandemic Response Motion

Councillors around the horseshoe said the matter required more consultation and clarification with the community’s leadership.

Councillor Bruce Inglis, who is a Fort Chipewyan resident, said he favoured the original motion as it reinforced provincial health orders.

He said he would vote against amending the motion with the curfew.

Inglis added Fort Chipewyan may not understand the undue hardship a curfew may have on its residents adding COVID-19 has an indefinite shelf life.

“It’s a wish by [the] leadership, but not necessarily a wish that comes from a great extent of medical health and pandemic knowledge. They don’t realize what the impact is going to be on them both physically and on their mental health.”

Inglis said a curfew would interfere with how community members live, in particular those who live off the land and water.

Most Councillors agreed with Inglis, including Councillor Keith McGrath.

McGrath said he received several emails from residents in Fort Chipewyan, who were unaware of the scope of the bylaw.

“I think we need to hear directly from the leadership. I hear one councillor from the community that lives in [Fort Chipewyan] is against it. I’m just miffed [on] something so important this evening that the chiefs are not on this call with Council so we can understand the needs of the community.”

McGrath introduced the motion to defer the matter until they could speak with Fort Chipewyan’s First Nations and Métis leaders.

RMWB Council voted 10 – 1 with Mayor Scott dissenting the deferral.

The administration said the special meeting would occur as soon as practical, but mentioned a soft deadline of April 20, 2020.

That date is when the administration regularly meets with the Indigenous leadership of the rural hamlet.

Councillor Jane Stroud introduced a motion addressing the need for clarity in reporting COVID-19 cases in the RMWB.