Federal government recommends First Nations suspend spring elections during coronavirus pandemic

The federal government is recommending that First Nations across the country delay spring elections amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The statement comes days after provincial governments have implemented social distancing measures like limiting the amount of people gathered in one area.

A statement from the Indigenous Services minister’s press secretary on March 27 said, “We recognize the public health risks of holding an election during a pandemic.”

“We continue to follow the recommendation of public health experts to practice physical distancing and avoiding large groups wherever possible. For these reasons and out of concern for community members’ well-being, we do not recommend proceeding with elections at this time.”

The statement said the final decision to postpone or continue an election is in the hands of each community in accordance with its laws, customs and governance structure.

This comes a day after the opposition’s critic released a statement asking the government to provide clarity to First Nation communities.

“This needs a solution now, this is not a next week kind of thing. This is something that has to happen in a very, very time-sensitive and appropriate manner,” said Desnethe-Missinippi-Churchill River MP Gary Vidal on March 26.

On March 27, Beardy’s and Okemasis Cree Nation went forward with its election.

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Its electoral officer said it was given precautionary measures to ensure the safety for those looking to vote including limiting the amount of people in the room.

The statement from the minister’s press secretary also mentioned he doesn’t have the authority to extend the terms of elected members.

The Lac La Ronge Indian Band, which isn’t governed by the Indian Act, made the decision to postpone its upcoming election.

“Number one is the health and safety of our communities. Our membership is top priority, which is why the election tribunal decided to postpone the election because they felt that they could not proceed with the election with the COVID-19 pandemic that we’re facing right now,” said chief Tammy Cook-Searson.

A decision was also made to temporarily extend the term of chief and council until April 30.

Cook-Searson said the community will reassess at that time to see if an election is suitable.

The minister’s office said it’s been in direct contact with communities facing these decisions and are working to best find a way to minimize disruption so those officials can focus on the pandemic.

Global News reached out for further clarification about the measures and provisions it would offer communities if they decide to carry on with elections, but didn’t receive an answer before publication.

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers across Canada are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. In Saskatchewan, international travellers are already required to self-isolate for 14 days upon their return to the province.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

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