Some residents in the Boundary region say they’re against proposed changes that would give the RCMP authority to arrest people who refuse to leave during an evacuation order. Critics say if the idea is legislated, people will lose their homes during wildfires.
“If we had been forced to evacuate, we would have definitely—no doubt in my mind—lost all of our places,” said Michael Fenwick-Wilson, who fought to save his home during the Rock Creek wildfire in 2015.
Last summer 30 homes were lost to the fire during one of B.C.’s worst wildfire seasons to date.
As part of proposed revisions to the Emergency Program Act, the province is considering giving the RCMP the authority to arrest people like Fenwick-Wilson who refuse to leave under similar circumstances.
The province argues that people who stay despite evacuation orders put emergency workers at risk when situations become increasingly dangerous and require a rescue.
Manitoba was the first province to enact similar laws, in 2013, according to the document outlining the proposed changes.
“It’s unenforceable for the most part. I mean, the [jail] cells aren’t big enough in the area,” Fenwick-Wilson said.
Fred Marshall, a professional forester who trains people how to protect their properties from fire, also says he’s against the proposed change.
“Many of us people here in the Boundary, we’ve been here for years. We’re pretty well-experienced, and know what to do,” he said. “You would have to arrest us all.”
The province was accepting feedback on the changes until last Friday.
Minister of State for Emergency Preparedness, Naomi Yamamoto, will present the feedback to the Cabinet Committee on Secure Tomorrow on or before March 31, 2016.
– With files from Brady Strachan of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation