Quebec Cree pass mandatory self-isolation law

"We were concerned with the laws coming from the government of Quebec. They didn't necessarily make sense for us and at times they were contradictory," said Paul John Murdoch, secretary of the Cree Nation Government.

The law also gives communities ability to publish names of people who have been ordered to self-isolate

A community checkpoint to the Cree community of Waswanipi, Que. Checkpoints like this are expected to remain in place at until least August. (submitted by Michel Awashish)

Officials in northern Quebec Cree communities are moving ahead with a deconfinement plan that includes a law requiring a mandatory, 14-day self-isolation for anyone coming from "at-risk" jobs or areas.  

The Mandatory Self-Isolation Law also gives communities the ability to publish the names of people who have been ordered to self-isolate. 

It was developed with the help of the Cree Nation Government and has been adopted by all but two of the Quebec Cree communities — Waswanipi and Whapmagoostui, Que. Those two communities are expected to adopt the law in the coming weeks.

The legislation is a key part of the Cree deconfinement plan, which is broken down into five phases. Phase 1 will begin when the Sûreté du Québec checkpoints into the region come down, which is expected to happen before June 9, according to Faisca Richer, the director of public health for the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay. 

The law was needed because the deconfinement plan laid out by Quebec Premier François Legault didn't make sense for the Cree, according to Paul John Murdoch, secretary for the Cree Nation Government and a lawyer.

"We were concerned with the laws coming from the government of Quebec. They didn't necessarily make sense for us and at times they were contradictory," said Murdoch in a live-streamed video Monday, explaining the deconfinement plan to citizens.

We were concerned with the laws coming from the government of Quebec.- Paul John Murdoch, secretary for the Cree Nation Government

Eeyou Istchee, the name for the Cree territory in Quebec, has had 10 confirmed cases of COVID-19.

"We're doing really well in our territory. The challenge is that our neighbour to the south — Montreal and the southern part of Quebec — is considered the epicentre of this pandemic in Canada. That's one of the reasons for this law," said Murdoch. 

Identifying people needed to increase compliance

"At-risk" jobs include those in mining, forestry and hydro-electric camps, and "at-risk" areas are anywhere south of Lebel-sur-Quévillon, Que., located about 600 kilometres north of Montreal, and east of Mistissini, Que. 

Cree officials have published a map of 'at -risk' zones. These zones could change depending on the spread of COVID-19. (Cree Nation Government)

The publication of names of people who have been ordered to self-isolate is needed, according to Murdoch, to make things clear and improve compliance. 

"If a person is not on that list then there's no need to be concerned about that person. If the person is on the list, you know you need to stay away from [them] for the next 14 days," said Murdoch, during the live stream. 

The legislation needs to be renewed every 45 days or the powers will expire. Murdoch said the areas identified as "high-risk" could shift over time depending on the spread of COVID-19. 

People travelling from other Cree communities or Cree returning from trips to the non-Indigenous Quebec towns currently in the low-risk zone — Lebel-sur-Quévillon, Matagami and Chibougamau, located about 700 kilometres north of Montreal — will not have to self-isolate, according to Murdoch. 

But, he added, travellers should always make sure a Cree community is accepting non-residents before heading out.

Murdoch said it's important for people not to consider self-isolation a "prison sentence" and said the Cree health board has put out very clear, and reasonable, requirements for self-isolation

A 'very slow approach' to deconfinement

Under the plan, the Cree communities won't fully reopen to southerners until August at the earliest.

During Phase 1 of the plan, outdoor activities and small-scale (two-household) outdoor gatherings can resume. Some non-essential healthcare services will also resume. 

Paul John Murdoch is a lawyer and secretary of the Cree Nation Government. (Societe de la développement de la baie james)

If all goes well, two weeks after this, Phase 2 of deconfinement can begin, in which some local businesses, some two-household indoor gatherings and all non-essential healthcare services will resume.

"We want to make sure that we take a very slow approach to the deconfinement," said Richer, with the Cree health board. 

Phase 3 will see personal services, restaurants, daycares and schools reopen, and medium-scale private and public gatherings resume. Phase 4 will see all other businesses, including recreational and entertainment activities and larger public gathering resume, and finally, Phase 5 will see the removal of community checkpoints and all other measures. 

However, if ever there is a spike in cases, or there are challenges with containment, the deconfinement will stall, said Richer.

"The other phases will depend [on] exactly how well we do ... [but] the community checkpoints will really be removed at the very end," said Richer.