Skip to content

Mayor defends decision not to host evacuees

Bill Mauro says the city's emergency services are already 'overwhelmed'
Bill Mauro
Thunder Bay Mayor Bill Mauro (Tbnewswatch file)

THUNDER BAY — Mayor Bill Mauro says the city's recent decision not to host residents of First Nations evacuated due to flooding or forest fires this year was "very difficult."

But in an interview Wednesday on Thunder Bay Television, Mauro defended the move, saying it's related to an issue he's been working on for the better part of a year.

In last week's announcement, the city said its Municicpal Emergency Control Group had determined the city does not have the capacity to properly support evacuees because municipal resources are already under stress from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mauro said that's true, however the city's ability to take care of hundreds and hundreds of displaced individuals was a concern to him well before the pandemic surfaced.

"We simply, at this point, are so overwhelmed when it comes to the capacity and the ability to provide our emergency services–paramedics, police and fire–to support an evacuation of 600 to 1,000 people. We know we are stretched at this point," he said.

Mauro said the city must consider what it should reasonably be expected to take on in addition to the community's existing, well-documented challenges.

"I simply look at our paramedic chief, our fire chief and our police chief, and I say, can we manage this?  And are we able to meet our response times for the people in the city of Thunder Bay?".

The mayor said gang-related crime and the opioid crisis have stressed the city's emergency services for a long period.

"So we're really looking to the province to, please, proactively plan. Get more willing host communiites. Last year, Ontario sent evacuees to Saskatchewan, so clearly we are not preparing enough. We need to get better at this," he said.

Thunder Bay CIty Manager Norm Gale has noted that the city has always stepped up to help evacuees in past year.

"To my knowledge, we have never said no to an evacuation. While municipalities across the province have said no, we haven't," Gale said last week.

The Thunder Bay group Citizens United for a Sustainable Planet condemned the city's decision, describing it as "unconscionable and inhuman."

"This is not who we are as a city," said CUSP member Courtney Strutt.

"As the regional hub for health care and supply distribution, we have the capacity to work in partnership with First Nation communities...this decision does not reflect the community spirit of Thunder Bay," Strutt said.

CUSP member Aynsley Klassen asked how Thunder Bay can "put up the barricades."

"We've got a regional hospital, almost-empty hotels and many surplus buildings that could be used as crisis centres with time now to play for a safe transition," Klassen maintained.

The Town of Kapuskasing announced recently that it, too, will be unable to host evacuees from any flooded communities this spring, because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Gary Rinne

About the Author: Gary Rinne

Born and raised in Thunder Bay, Gary started part-time at Tbnewswatch in 2016 after retiring from the CBC
Read more


push icon
Be the first to read breaking stories. Enable push notifications on your device. Disable anytime.
No thanks