White River First Nation calls for harsher penalty for Vancouver residents who broke COVID-19 rules

White River First Nation in Beaver Creek, Yukon, is calling for a harsher penalty against two Vancouver residents who broke COVID-19 rules and got vaccinated in the community.

“We are deeply concerned by the actions of individuals who put our elders and vulnerable people at risk to jump the line for selfish purposes,” Chief Angela Demit of White River First Nation (WRFN), said in a statement on Saturday. 

“While we understand many want to have a vaccination immediately, it is not appropriate to skirt the rules put in place and approach our community in this way. WRFN was selected for vaccines given our remoteness, elderly and high-risk population, as well as limited access to health care.”

Last week, two people were charged under Yukon’s Civil Emergency Measures Act for failing to self-isolate after entering the territory, and for failing to follow a declaration, after they travelled to Beaver Creek and got doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.

The maximum fine for a violation under the act is $500 or six months in jail.

‘Lenient punishment’

In the statement, White River First Nation said it does not feel that the “lenient punishment” applicable is appropriate for the gravity of the accused’s actions, “given the potentially lethal effects to our community.” 

It urged the Yukon government and the RCMP to pursue a “more just punishment.”

White River First Nation also expressed frustration with how the Yukon government communicated about the violation. Instead of finding out about it from the Yukon government, the First Nation said it learned about the incident through the media.

White River First Nation said it will seek a “formalized communication protocol” with the Yukon government so that something like this doesn’t happen again.

‘We regret the way White River learned about this incident’

In an emailed statement, Community Services Minister John Streicker called the incident in Beaver Creek “deeply concerning for a number of reasons.”

“We regret the way White River learned about this incident and agree on the need for closer communication going forward,” he said.

“This was a rapidly developing situation. Yukon government enforcement officials acted swiftly to charge the two individuals for violating the measures in place under the Civil Emergency Measures Act.” He said the RCMP was also immediately notified about the situation.  

Streicker said he and Dr. Brendan Hanley, Yukon’s chief medical officer of health, met with White River First Nation’s chief and members of its council on Friday to discuss the incident and improving communication protocols.

The First Nation did commend Hanley for addressing concerns with the community directly, and for his work to “resolve the issue moving forward.”

White River First Nation said it plans to implement its own safety regulations for the second round of vaccinations in the community.

It reminded residents to continue following public health guidance, and said Hanley had assured the risk for transmission in the community right now is low.

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