Fort St. John's borders remain open, and day-to-day policing will not be affected by the state of emergency declared Tuesday, says the city's mayor and police commander.
City council declared the emergency citing the COVID-19 pandemic, and which gives it a range of extraordinary powers, including the control of travel to or from any area of B.C. and the ability to co-ordinate emergency medical services.
“It’s business as usual for us. This state of emergency as it is right now does not affect policing,” said RCMP Detachment Commander Insp. Tony Hanson, adding the city did consult with him before the decision was made by council.
The present concern for Fort St. John is the potential for a local outbreak of the COVID-19 virus caused by industry and fly-in resource workers, particularly at Site C, and there are fears about sick workers overwhelming the city's hospital and health care resources.
Mayor Lori Ackerman said Tuesday night that the city was not shutting down its borders.
"If you live in the District of Taylor or the rural area around Fort St. John we are not shutting the borders down," Ackerman said by video, herself in two weeks of quarantine after returning from Mexico on March 19.
"I do acknowledge there are some communities across British Columbia considering that, we are not one of them. The community is open, the hospital is open, services are available."
"We have not put anything in our declaration about limiting your movements. You will still be able to go to the stores, wherever in the community, as long as you follow the guidelines that are already put in place by the province."
Historically, the RCMP has been used to enforce emergency declarations in the Peace region.
In 2018, RCMP maintained checkpoints to control access into the Old Fort community after a landslide forced the evacuation of more than 150 residents. The Peace River Regional District threatened residents with $10,000 fines and jail time if they were caught re-entering.
“I’m an instrument of policy, my orders from come from my division and the solicitor general,” said Hanson.
An emergency declaration also gives the city the ability to ration food and other supplies and prevent price gouging in a shortage, and help manage services within the community, such as the delivery of goods to vulnerable and at-risk residents, Ackerman said.
The province is now looking at orders to manage hoarding and price gouging, as well as the movement of resource workers into the region, Ackerman said. "I expect in the next couple of days that will come out in provincial order," she said.
Hanson says RCMP is doing its best to keep detachment members healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic, as they are an essential service. Anecdotally, call volumes and requests have gone down since the crisis began, he said.
“That may be due to the fact that we closed our front counter. We’re just not doing a lot of those day to day interactions with the public. People aren’t out and about, so we’re getting less traffic complaints as well,” said Hanson.
He added that there’s been a slight rise in disturbance and assault complaints, speculating this may be due to residents being quarantined for long periods of time.
Hanson was quick to clarify that he doesn’t know what direction the COVID-19 crisis will take, and will wait for further instruction from the proper authorities.
Email reporter Tom Summer at firstname.lastname@example.org.