Squamish-Lillooet Regional District chair calls for roadblock to prevent visitors

Groups flock to Squamish, again, despite COVID-19 restrictions

A Squamish Valley resident sent in this photo from Saturday. We are keeping the photographer's name confidential as the resident fears retaliation| Photo: SQUAMISH VALLEY RESIDENT

It happened again this weekend.

Though the province is under a state of emergency and the provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, has required people to stay home to avoid the spread of COVID-19, areas of Squamish were again flooded with visitors this first weekend of April.

Over the March 20 weekend, Squamish saw thousands of visitors as well, but on March 24 the provincial government closed multiple recreation sites, including those in the Sea to Sky.

However, this Saturday and Sunday, the Squamish Valley, in particular, has seen hundreds of cars and groups having campfires and recreating.

"We recognize that weekend visitor volume, while decreased from earlier weekends, is still an issue for Squamish and the surrounding area, and we continue to raise this as a concern with the province," said Mayor Karen Elliott on Sunday morning in an email to The Chief.

"Federal and provincial leaders have asked the public to stay at home and not visit rural communities, and the mayors and chair of the Sea to Sky region are also communicating with their colleagues in the Lower Mainland, urging them to ask their residents to do the same. This is not the time to visit. We are not your weekend road trip or getaway, and we will continue to follow up with provincial authorities on what action can be taken and how we can make this message stronger, especially as we head into the long weekend."

Tony Rainbow, Squamish-Lillooet Regional District chair and Area D director told The Chief Sunday that the SLRD had wanted to put a roadblock at Government Road, where the road forks to go to Paradise Valley and Upper Squamish. This would allow only local residents to get through.

While the board could have done that after it declared a local state of emergency on March 20, "unfortunately, when the province declared a state of emergency, at the same time they declared that all the local government states of emergency were null and void," Rainbow said.

"So we no longer had the authority to do that."

He said the board is working hard to get something done ahead of the upcoming Easter weekend.

The board is in contact with the RCMP, Squamish Nation — the road to the valley goes through the Nation's reserve — the District of Squamish and the provincial government about the issue, he added.

Last month, Squamish Nation leadership asked that outsiders stay away from reserve lands on the North Shore and in the Squamish Valley, for fear of the risk of spreading the pandemic.

Rainbow said he is hopeful that the barrier can still be put in place as it would protect both the Squamish and Paradise valley areas.

 But Rainbow stressed this isn't just a local issue.

"This is a provincial concern," he said. "What these people are doing is totally disregarding what Dr. Bonnie Henry and [Health Minister] Adrian Dix are saying. The message is stay home and practise social distancing. [These visitors] are basically saying 'Let's get out of the restrictions imposed on the city. Let's go into these rural areas and do as we like,' which is exactly what they are doing."

The Chief asked the provincial government if there are any plans to restrict access on the Sea to Sky Highway to just local residents and was told there are no plans to do this.

"The transportation network is essential for maintaining the critical supply chain for food, goods and medicine, and ensuring people have access to essential goods and services. There are currently no plans to shut down any of our public roads. The ministry has not blocked access to or from private land on any of our public roads," read a statement attributed to the Government of British Columbia.

The statement also reiterated the importance of physical distancing.

"This is new for everyone, and we know these changes are difficult for people. It’s important to remember that members of the same household do not have to practise physical distancing of two-meters at home or in public, as long as they can maintain safe physical distance from others."

On April 1, the province issued guidelines for compliance and enforcement of Dr. Henry’s orders. The release is available here.

If people have concerns with violations of any of the Provincial Health Officer orders, they can contact their local authority listed here.

The Chief has also reached out for comment from the Squamish Nation,  MLA Jordan Sturdy, and the Squamish RCMP. This story will be updated as we hear back.

Squamish Chief