An Armchair Mayor editorial by Mel Rothenburger.
IF AN RCMP officer knocked on your door and told you to evacuate your home due to an approaching wildfire, what would you do?
Most of us would get out as fast as we could.
But, as it turns out, an evacuation order isn’t really an order; it’s just a very strong suggestion. They’re issued only reluctantly and under dire circumstances, but if you decide to stay in your home, you won’t be charged with anything.
That’s come to light as people have been asking questions of authorities in the wake of the current wildfire crisis. And another detail of evacuation orders — an exception to the rule — has made the headlines in the last couple of days.
Under the Child, Family and Community Service Act, authorities can remove children for their own safety even when their parents refuse to leave.
This has suddenly brought one B.C. First Nation into a threatening confrontation with police. The Tl’etinqox First Nation west of Williams Lake is under an evacuation order but 300 members have stayed behind to fight the fires.
Chief Joe Alphonse says RCMP have threatened to remove children from the reserve, and he says that’s not going to happen. He’s quoted as saying the band might throw up roadblocks to keep out police and if that doesn’t work, police might have to “start dodging bullets.”
Another indication of just how tense the situation is getting came Wednesday while Alphonse was being interviewed by CBC Radio about the situation and was asked about the issue of the children.
Alphonse railed against the radio host, saying his attitude was similar to those who took First Nations children away from their parents and put them in residential schools.
It was an entirely exaggerated and inappropriate thing to say but, to the radio guy’s credit, he calmly pointed out that he was simply asking a question based on the concerns of police and the provincial government.
The situation is a delicate one. Nobody needs an armed standoff in the middle of a province wide wildfire crisis. Both sides need to back off and calm down.
Alphonse should tone down his language, and police and government — as worried as they might be about the kids — have little choice but to let the band decide, and to be ready to extricate everyone who stays behind if it becomes necessary.
Mel Rothenburger is a former mayor of Kamloops, former school board chair, former editor of The Kamloops Daily News, and a current director on the Thompson-Nicola Regional District board. His editorials are published regularly on CFJC Today and he appears Wednesdays on the CFJC-TV evening news. Contact him at email@example.com.