Northerners denied services in southern Sask. speaks to 'systemic racism', says Beauval resident

As she heard of case after case of her fellow northerners being turned away from everything from hotels to medical appointments, Catherine Currie felt heartbroken, frustrated and wanted to take action.

Beauval resident has tracked over 20 businesses refusing service to northerners

A sign hangs in a business's window asking people from the Far North region of Saskatchewan not to enter. (Submitted by Catherine Currie)

As she heard of case after case of her fellow northerners being turned away from everything from hotels to medical appointments, Catherine Currie felt heartbroken, frustrated and wanted to take action. 

The Beauval, Sask., resident and provisional psychologist decided to start compiling a list of businesses in the south that had turned away residents for basic appointments and services — a list that grew even as travel restrictions were being lifted for parts of the northern region of the province. 

"Northerners are starting to say 'We're going to put our money where our mouth is. We're going to stand up for ourselves. We do not need to support businesses that don't support us,'" said Currie.

Restrictions on non-essential travel had been put in place at the end of April as the number of COVID-19 cases began rising in the Far North region. Northern residents were required to remain in their local communities, except for grocery runs and medical appointments.

The province lifted the non-essential travel ban for the northeast on May 19. The travel ban was lifted entirely June 8.

Catherine Currie says it didn't sit right with her when she heard northerners were being denied access to services in the southern portion of the province. (Submitted by Catherine Currie)

It first came to Currie's attention that northerners were being denied services through social media. So far, she has tracked over 20 businesses in the south that have denied services to northerners. 

"I saw that a number of friends that I have from a community called Pinehouse that — at that point, and still now —  has had no cases at all of the virus, were posting that they were unable to make any kind of appointment for a dentist or optometrist in the city," said Currie. 

Currie started making phone calls to find out what was going on. 

Currie said that some of the businesses were making the choice with guidance from the Saskatchewan Health Authority, while others were making an independent choice to not offer services to northerners. 

Francine Herman was one of the cases Currie came across while tracking the situation. 

Francine Herman says she was told she could not stay at the Prince Albert Inn when she traveled there from La Loche for a scheduled medical appointment. (Submitted by Francine Herman)

Herman lives in La Loche, and travelled to Prince Albert on May 21 for a medical appointment on May 22. 

She said health services had booked her a room at the Prince Albert Inn so she could attend her medical appointment. When she first arrived, she was able to check-in. 

After checking in, she went to go to her daughter's house. When she returned to go to her room, she says she was told she was not welcome to stay because she's from La Loche. 

"Where would I go if my daughter wasn't in P.A.? Where would've I stayed?" said Herman.

"It wasn't fair. COVID-19 is spreading all over the world, not only La Loche." 

The Prince Albert Inn had a post on Facebook from May 4 saying it would not be accepting reservations from communities managing COVID-19 outbreaks, but did not respond to requests for comment about whether or not this is still the policy. 

In an email on May 22, the Ministry of Health said all medical health appointments for northerners should go ahead as scheduled.

"The risk of contracting COVID-19 exists throughout Saskatchewan. All residents providing services, whether medical or pharmacy, hospitality, grocery stores or gas stations, should be taking the necessary precautions no matter their location," read the statement. 

Currie said she is concerned because it doesn't make sense to her to apply these restrictions to the entire northern region when many communities in the north don't have cases of COVID-19. 

"[It's] more concerning because the Far North region is primarily Indigenous in population. It really does amount to becoming a human rights issue," said Currie.

"Systemic racism occurs when it really has to do more with the results rather than the intent of an action. So if what you're doing results in a large group of — in this case, Indigenous people — being restricted access to something, that is systemic racism."

Currie said when she phoned certain businesses to ask why they created this policy, some have apologized and made a change. 

She said a list of businesses that have been refusing service to northerners has been widely distributed on Facebook.

"I'd really like to see the people of the north continue to be strong together and to speak out for their issues."


Joelle Seal is an Associate Producer in Current Affairs for CBC Saskatchewan. Get in touch with her by emailing or on Twitter @joelleseal.

With files from The Morning Edition & CBC's Bonnie Allen