Fishing lodge owners on Haida Gwaii are extremely upset with the provincial government’s decision to halt all non-resident travel to the islands due to a COVID-19 outbreak.
The decision to restrict travel was made earlier this week after 20 reported cases on the islands in the past week.
“Our staff are stunned,” said Paul Clough, president of Queen Charlotte Lodge. “Our guests are shocked. We are completely appalled that after following every B.C., Provincial Health Officer and WorkSafeBC health law, regulation and guideline available and after taking significant and expensive measures to isolate our lodge from Haida communities that the government would arbitrarily shut us down.”
Queen Charlotte Lodge opened in early July by taking extraordinary measures to ensure they operated COVID-19 free and without any contact with Haida Gwaii communities by helicoptering in guests from Prince Rupert directly to their lodge, located over 35 kilometres from the nearest community. The lodge is only accessible by air and sea.
The decision, said Clough, will affect 150 jobs.
“We did everything right, the COVID-19 cases in Haida Gwaii were caused by a returning Masset resident who didn’t self-isolate, yet we are being punished with the loss of our jobs and devastation of our business,” he said.
Clough says the B.C. government did not consult with the lodge or make any complaint about their operation prior to the order. The province says it made the decision made after a government-to-government collaboration with Council of the Haida Nation, Skidegate Band Council, Old Massett Village Council and local governments, in consultation with the provincial health officer.
“We had the premier of the province saying just three weeks ago that we had every legal right to operate our business as we were in compliance of all health and safety rules and then without warning we are completely shut down – it’s totally unfair,” said Clough. “We have staff who depend on these jobs, we have tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of food and supplies bought for the season and we have done absolutely nothing wrong – yet we are now out of business.”
The story is the same from the West Coast Fishing Club, which also operates a resort on Haida Gwaii.
“We are simply shocked and stunned that without warning or consultation, the B.C. government passed an Order In Council that immediately shuts us down by banning all non-essential travel to Haida Gwaii – while we are in the middle of tourist season – without giving us any plan to remove our guests and staff,” said Brian Legge, President of the West Coast Fishing Club. “We opened along with all other B.C. tourism operators when B.C. announced the Phase 3 Restart, we developed an extremely safe operating plan that would totally protect the people and communities of Haida Gwaii, we met every condition and at significant cost moved to helicopter our guests in from Prince Rupert so there was no contact with any Haida community – and we had no problems with COVID-19 – so why did the B.C. government shut us and other lodges down?”
Legge says they sent their safe operating plan to the band council, who, he adds, never even acknowledged it, and to the BC government, who changed their original acceptance of it.
“This is clearly a situation where the B.C. government is turning over control of Haida Gwaii to the Council of the Haida Nation, despite the fact that we are on private land, operating safely and without any illness,” Legge said. “This may meet the political ambitions of the Council of the Haida Nation but it sends a terrible signal to all other businesses in BC.”
Travel to Haida Gwaii will continue to be permitted, subject to the approval of the collective Haida Gwaii communities, for the delivery of essential goods and supplies, medical appointments, urgent or emergency family matters, and for the provision of essential services as defined by the unified command structure comprised of the Council of the Haida Nation, village councils and local governments.
Respecting Haida authority and jurisdiction, many local and off-Island businesses and operations are abiding by the local state of emergency Haida Gwaii, according to a post on the Haida Nation website. As the COVID-19 global pandemic emerged, several sport fishing lodges made the choice to cease operations this year. The Council of the Haida Nation commends this respectful act made by Langara Island Lodge, Peregrine Lodge, Naden Lodge, Escott Sportfishing Lodge and Queen Charlotte Safaris.
The Haida Nation’s current state of emergency does not permit any non-essential travel to Haida Gwaii, including the operation of fishing lodges, at this time, according to the post.
“As the government, it is our responsibility to safeguard our rights and ensure the well-being of Haida citizens,” said Gaagwiis (Jason Alsop), president of the Haida Nation. “CHN’s COVID-19 emergency measures apply to all, equally, and business operators will be notified as we decide to ease restrictions. Until then, we will be upholding the emergency measures in place to protect our communities.”
Legge also said he is extremely aggravated that false and malicious information has been repeatedly posted on social media.
“All of our guests are Canadian citizens – no one from the United States is allowed to visit yet many Facebook, Twitter and other social media posts claimed Americans were at the lodges – that’s factually, totally wrong,” Legge said. “We love Haida Gwaii, we have contributed over $1 million for salmon conservation, we have done everything to protect it and yet we are being constantly and unfairly criticized with false claims.”
Legge said he has asked for and not received any information from the B.C. government on how to proceed under the new order, given that dozens of guests and staff are now effectively stranded on Haida Gwaii.
Clough said Queen Charlotte Lodge will investigate, via legal counsel, what options are available.