Northern Sask. leaders ask for clarity in letter to chief medical health officer

Rick Laliberte has written to Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer on behalf of the communities along and near Highway 155 in northwestern Saskatchewan.

Checkpoints are causing 'considerable confusion': Rick Laliberte

Kevin Favel mans a checkpoint near Green Lake, Sask., on April 30. (Don Somers/CBC)

The head of the North West Communities' Incident Command Centre (NWCICC) has written to Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer on behalf of the communities along and near Highway 155 calling for more consultation. 

Rick Laliberte is calling for a "consistent, predictable and meaningful collaboration,"  on behalf of the Treaty Ten Pandemic Council and the NWCICC, which represents 24 northern Saskatchewan communities. He's also asking for clarity on how public health orders on travel are to be administered in the region. 

The NWCICC started putting up road checkpoints last month as the outbreak started. Then the province restricted non-essential travel restrictions in the north and took over the checkpoint staffing with employees from the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency. 

Laliberte said there is "considerable confusion" surrounding the checkpoints. Laliberte wrote that some staffers are not accepting notes from chief or council authorizing people to travel. Furthermore, he said there is an absence of Indigenous representation and of people who can speak the local languages. 

Other northerners have described encounters with checkpoint offiicers as unprofessional or rude

Laliberte said that people agree "with the lock down in the north" as the outbreak continues. 

"What we find insulting is the absolute lack of consultation or discussion about the interpretation of the public health order." 

The province has not yet confirmed if it has received the letter. Laliberte declined to comment on the letter to CBC. 

Marlo Pritchard, president of the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency, said Monday afternoon that he is aware of "challenges and issues" that have been raised regarding checkpoints. 

Pritchard said some appear to be related to the interpretation of the public health order, which said people must stay in their home communities unless they have a medical appointment or need groceries. 

"The way the order is worded is it's to get essential services or groceries at a location closest to their home address," Pritchard said. "The information that I'm getting is that they want to go farther than the local community and so they're being encouraged to go to that community or back."

He said complaints were being followed up on and said that consultation is ongoing. 

"We will be responding to any letters or concerns that are raised." 

Laliberte highlights concerns beyond checkpoints

The checkpoints aren't the only cause for concern, according to Laliberte. He said there is a lack of clarity on what the public health orders mean for locals who work on rotations in Saskatoon and Alberta. 

He's asked the province to arrange a daily call with the chief medical health officer and requested that a provincial contact person be appointed to directly communicate with the NWCICC. 

Laliberte also highlighted food security, home-care services for the elderly and vulnerable, and inadequate mental health support as issues that the province has yet to address. 

He said he understood the "temptation to blame us for the complex issues in the northwest." 

"Many people in the province are expressing this attitude, and this is not only deeply painful to us, but also dangerously divisive to the social fabric of our province." 

He wrote that there are worries about diminishing trust in provincial officials and frustration that followed "weeks of negative responses from the province to our community issues," saying "we are concerned that once it is lost, we will not regain it." 

He also wrote about respect for treaty, Indigenous and human rights.

"We recognize pandemics call for speed and decision making; however long-standing legal obligations do not disappear."