Kanesatake Mohawks block entrance to Oka provincial park
Grand Chief Serge Simon fears 2nd wave of COVID-19 as province reopens parks, businesses
Kanesatake Mohawks set up checkpoints at the entrance to Oka provincial park Wednesday, as the park was due to reopen, stopping cars as they arrived and asking their occupants to turn around and leave.
Kanesatake Grand Chief Serge Otsi Simon said the provincial government had failed in its constitutional duty to consult with First Nations before reopening its parks network.
Oka park, about 60 kilometres northwest of Montreal, is adjacent to the town of Oka and the Mohawk community, and Simon said Mohawks are worried opening the park to visitors could spread COVID-19 to neighbouring communities, including Kanesatake.
"We're seeing progress: infection rates and death rates are starting to slow down," said Simon.
"So is it really the time to get the economy rolling?"
Simon said the province should have waited at least two more weeks before allowing people to spend time in the park. He wrote Premier François Legault Monday, calling for limited access to the region.
In his letter, Simon said that even if precautions are taken, "the risks of community spread in our area are too high."
"Oka park as well as the Oka–Hudson ferry must stay closed until we are consulted on any reopening of tourist services that may affect the health of our region," Simon wrote.
Town of Oka welcomes reopening
Oka Mayor Pascal Quévillon, who was also at Oka park Wednesday morning, sees no problem with the park partially reopening if people respect physical distancing.
For now, only hiking and biking in the park are allowed. Oka beach and all the park's services, including washrooms, remain closed.
"COVID-19 is here to stay," Quévillon said. "We have to learn to live with the virus."
Quévillon said the park's visitors are important for local businesses, and he is demanding Legault ask provincial police to step in.
Asked about the standoff at the government's pandemic briefing Wednesday, Deputy Premier Geneviève Guilbault said the provincial Ministry of Parks and Wildlife is in talks with Simon in the hope of finding a satisfactory solution to the dispute.
Meanwhile, she asked the Mohawks to allow access to the park.
"Parks were supposed to reopen on May 20, and it is May 20," Guilbault said.
The provincial agency that manages parks, SEPAQ, says it will reimburse anyone who purchased a ticket to access the park and didn't get in.
With files from Jaela Bernstien and Radio-Canada