CANMORE – The Town of Canmore says it doesn’t have the authority to close the community to visitors.
In a special council meeting Tuesday (March 24), Town administration said it is not taking the coronavirus pandemic lightly and addressed many community questions, such as why it hasn’t declared a state of local emergency, or why it hasn’t closed the town to tourists.
“To assure those that are watching, the community’s response from the Town, that we are working tirelessly to manage and respond to the steady flow of information that’s coming in and to the variety of sources of that information,” said Chief Administrative Officer Lisa de Soto.
“We’re constantly evaluating and evolving our response to the most up-to-date information, and because there is conflicting information across provinces, across the country and across the world, we are relying on the information coming from the provincial Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw, as a source of truth and fact that we need to respond to, and the direction that we need to follow.”
De Soto said there are many questions in the community, including why a state of local emergency hasn’t been declared, why council doesn’t close the town to visitors, and why playgrounds haven’t been shut down.
“Typically, a state of local emergency is declared when the resources of the municipality are insufficient to address the emergency at hand, and you can think back to the 2013 floods when we really needed to rely on outside expertise and supports and contractors and other government levels to support our response here,” said de Soto.
“As noted, because this is a health emergency, there isn’t an incident that we are responding to, or that we have control over the response to that health incident.
"So we are deferring to the medical experts who have that data and can interpret it and give us policy directions. We have taken actions to set up an Emergency Coordination Centre, to set up a services team, to close facilities, to limit access to public spaces, and those are all actions under our control that we can do without declaring a state of local emergency.”
When it comes to closing the Town off to visitors, Canmore simply does not have that authority as a municipality to do so.
“We do not have the authority or the resource capacity to enforce a restriction on the movement of people in or out of our community – only the province or federal government can close highways or close airports, as we’ve seen with the federal government restricting travel from around the world,” de Soto said.
“There are many, many reasons why people need to get in and out of our community. You can think of co-workers, friends who don’t live in our community, but need to come to our community for work, for access to services, to attend important appointments, to visit loved ones that need their support. To be able to manage that flow of people in and out, it’s just not something that we can do.”
Complaints have been circulating on social media about the fact playgrounds and outdoor play structures are still open to the public.
De Soto said while the Emergency Coordination Centre is likely to revisit this issue at its second daily meeting Tuesday, the hope is that Canmore citizens will also be socially responsible.
“We will continue to monitor that situation, and if we find that we cannot manage proper use of those facilities, then we can close them,” said de Soto.
“Again, it is very difficult to enforce that kind of action and we are relying on the citizens of Canmore and visitors to our community to be socially responsible and to understand that their actions impact on others.”
In addition, de Soto said public health officials continue to repeat that going outdoors while practicing social distancing is still encouraged as a way to mitigate mental health impacts.
“Public health officials continue to repeat that social distancing and proper hygiene is the best way to stem the spread of the virus," she said.
"They're also saying that being outdoors remains one of the best mental health opportunities we can give ourselves and our families as we live through restricted movements."
She explained a number of measures the Town has been doing amid the pandemic. Aside from meeting twice daily, the Town of Canmore has also opened up a call centre.
“As of yesterday (March 23), our emergency social services group activated a call centre that will operate seven days a week," de Soto said.
"Now we encourage anyone who needs support, perhaps feels confused or a bit uncertain about what actions they should take personally within their home, within their business … or [how] they could help their neighbours, their community, to call in and talk to us. We have people standing by ready to take your call and to offer some advice and support and to direct or correlate community resource information."
In addition to this, the Town’s communication team spent the weekend revamping the municipality's website in order to ensure any information surrounding COVID-19 is up-to-date, as well as that the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) section is as detailed as possible.
De Soto also addressed concerns expressed to council members that they would continue to meet publicly, saying it is provincial legislation for municipalities to meet publicly and the Town of Canmore can not defy that legislation.
Visit canmore.ca/covid19 for the most up to date information surrounding Town of Canmore actions.
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