First Nation proposes Highway 16 checkpoint near Terrace

A proposed Lax Kw’alaams checkpoint on Hwy 16 between Prince Rupert and Terrace could hurt businesses here, says the president of the Terrace & District Chamber of Commerce.

“We have a good portion of business that comes from Rupert,” said chamber president Tom Keller on May 8. “Absolutely if they are stopping traffic coming our way from Rupert we will definitely feel an impact.”

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COVID-19 restrictions and social distancing guidelines have made this an especially difficult time for businesses, even larger locally owned retailers like Canadian Tire, he added.

“I don’t think any business is thriving truly in Terrace right now,” said Keller. “From the small shops right up to the big shops, everybody will feel it.”

Terrace mayor Carol Leclerc said she has not spoken to her Prince Rupert counterpart Lee Brain about the possibility of a road blockade, but that “people from Prince Rupert and that area are always welcome here in Terrace.”

Leclerc doesn’t think a checkpoint would have a significant impact on the city, because COVID-19 social distancing guidelines have limited non-essential travel already.

Several First Nations and municipal leaders from the north and central coast communities issued a release on April 30, calling for more support from government in preventing non-essential travel to remote communities.

“Lax Kw’alaams has reserve lands that cross Highway 16 between Terrace and Prince Rupert and we are preparing to create a checkpoint to monitor and enact travel restrictions,” said Lax Kw’alaams mayor Garry Reece in the joint release. “We cannot let this virus come into our community, there is just too much at risk for our people.”

On May 3, Reece said during a webinar hosted by the Council of the Haida Nation that more than 1,000 Lax Kw’alaams members, many of them elders, live in Prince Rupert and that non-essential travel to the city should be stopped.

The site of the proposed checkpoint would be at Salvus, about 60 kilometres west of Terrace on Highway 16, where the highway crosses over a small reserve parcel of the Lax Kw’alaams.

The provincial highways ministry confirmed this week the province has no tenure for the highway passage through the reserve, effectively placing it within the control of the Lax Kw’alaams.

Despite some anxiety, Keller said Terrace businesses understand the situation. “We all respect and understand the desire to keep small communities safe right now, a lot of them don’t have medical staff on hand regularly so they really want to protect themselves.”

Lax Kw’alaams is on a peninsula on the north coast with access limited to ferry or floatplane.

It has been in isolation, with ferry traffic curtailed and visitors restricted to those on essential business only but normal ferry service is to resume May 11. Isolation may no longer be required unless there are signs of COVID-19 present.

Keller said that it is difficult to make predictions because of a lack of details about how the checkpoint would work, or if it will even happen. “The businesses are all doing their best to work with what we have so it's really just one day at a time.” 

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