The Northwest Territories may fine or jail 'non-essential' residents who return home while evacuation orders remain under effect — a measure they hope not to use.
Officials in Yellowknife, Hay River and Fort Smith have recently appealed for residents to either stay away, get out — or both.
Yellowknife and its roughly 20,000 inhabitants have mostly been evacuated from the capital as of August 18 — two days after the territory declared a state of emergency.
"All non-essential persons present within the community boundaries […] must immediately evacuate that area," reads the amended orders.
Previously, law enforcement warned residents against staying in their homes during an active evacuation, stating those who do so "stay at their own risk."
As of Wednesday at 7 p.m., failure to comply with an order constitutes a breach of the Emergency Management Act, as first reported by Cabin Radio.
With an out-of-control wildfire at the outskirts of Yellowknife (15 kilometres) and multiple RCMP investigations into two attempted arsons within the city last week, the territory and local law enforcement do not want to take any chances.
On Wednesday, RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Matt Halstead said those who contravene the act now could face up to a year in jail or a $5,000 fine.
However, he told reporters they're "not really looking" to enforce the punitive measure unless necessary or if a crime is suspected.
Halstead said the amended orders are likely to have the most impact at roadblocks should some evacuees try to return home at this juncture.
"There are quite a few, not so much on the Hay Riverside but definitely in the Yellowknife area," said Jeffrey Edison, acting assistant deputy minister for regional operations at the Department of Infrastructure.
However, questions still need to be answered on whether Meta's censor of Canadian news will continue to leave residents in the dark as the public state of emergency and firefighting efforts evolve.
Delaney Poitras of Fort Smith, N.W.T., decamped her home on August 12 to be with loved ones in Hay River as emergency personnel combatted the blaze near her community. But again, she bolted as Hay River received an urgent evacuation order the following day.
"I've never been evacuated in my life, and to do it twice in 24 hours, it was scary," she told the CBC from a temporary evacuation centre in Leduc, Alberta.
Poitras said the ongoing bout between Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, and the federal government has worsened a difficult situation for thousands of residents.
Meta has yet to say if it would revoke its news blackout during public states of emergency. Rebel News attempted to contact the tech giant but has not received a response at the time of writing.
Edison contends that some from other communities came to Yellowknife for food while others came to check their properties.
"But one is too many because you're taking up a lot of time, and there's a lot of risk in that," he said.
Halstead reaffirmed the RCMP is determined to maintain "public safety [and] enforce the roadblocks."
"This is not a shift in our approach, and these are powers that police have had access to […] since the beginning," he clarified, "In terms of the people that are here, nothing is going to change how we're interacting with them."
Rebel attempted to reach Halstead for comment on the number of returnees and if any fines have been issued. We have yet to receive a response at the time of writing.
As of Wednesday, he told reporters they have yet to charge anyone for contravening evacuation orders. "We hope we don't have to, but that is available."