EDITORIAL – Calm heads needed in row over wildfire evacuation order

Tl’etinqox First National firefighting crew gathers. (Image: Pam Alphonse-Facebook)

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


About Mel Rothenburger (6398 Articles) is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

6 Comments on EDITORIAL – Calm heads needed in row over wildfire evacuation order

  1. Colleen MacKenzie // July 14, 2017 at 3:39 PM // Reply

    RCMP Staff Sgt. Annie Linteau said in a statement Wednesday, “as far as the comments made by Chief Alphonse, we do not believe the comments made are reflective of the recent and continued meetings and conversations we have had with the chief.”

    View image on Twitter

  2. To suggest that someone might be dodging bullets is just assinine if not criminal And to draw a comparison between this situation and the residential schools is ridiculous and petty. I have lost all respect for this man. The authorities need to walk away, and everyone needs to hope that things don’t go South for the band.

  3. tony brumell // July 13, 2017 at 11:20 AM // Reply

    I always liked chief Alphonse.GO JOE GO!!!

    • For someone to think their children are being taken away is not an issue here, it is for the safety of the first nations children and or all children. This would probably change once the fires settle down and the children could go home. It would also give the people fighting the fires
      less to worry about while they stayed behind and tried to save their homes and village.

      • tony brumell // July 16, 2017 at 4:38 PM //

        I’m sorry that you or anyone would say something as ignorant as this statement. The unsolicited removal of the children IS the issue .It is not the decision of anyone but the chief and council and band members to say where their children go and when.To suggest that they would endanger the young ones is blind.
        For you to use the word “probably” is at the root of the historical problem and folks with your patronizing attitude are a perterbation .It’s time to stop the paternalistic attitudes.
        I do not speak on anyones behalf except my own.

  4. Band members are staying behind to fight the fires…that is what I would do.
    Band members leery of police and government…that is what I would do.
    And the CBC interviewer should’ve sensed the difficulty of the moment facing the chief and should’ve offer to help…that is what I would do.

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