Federal government ministers said Friday emergency operations are going well as wildfires rage in the Northwest Territories and around Kelowna, B.C., and pledged full federal support for those affected by the crisis.
“No one will be left behind,” Defence Minister Bill Blair told a news conference.
A wildfire is now within 15 kilometres of the Northwest Territories’ capital Yellowknife, territorial officials reported Friday afternoon. The territorial government issued an evacuation order for the city Wednesday and set a deadline of noon Friday for residents to leave.
Meanwhile, a wildfire near Kelowna, B.C. has prompted the municipality and many surrounding communities to declare states of emergency. The B.C. Wildfire Service has predicted that the coming days will be the most challenging of B.C.’s current wildfire season.
“This has been an incredibly challenging week for Canadians,” Emergency Preparedness Minister Harjit Sajjan said.
“The stress of leaving your home, not knowing if it will be there when you return, is a reality now faced by thousands.”
The federal government earlier this week approved Northwest Territories’ request for federal assistance. Blair told the press conference the first military evacuation flight took place Thursday evening. He said a C-130 Hercules transport aircraft carried 79 long-term care residents from Yellowknife to Edmonton.
“This is an important contribution that the Canadian Armed Forces can make, because they have fit-for-purpose aircraft that are able to move people who may be non-ambulatory on stretcher or on wheelchair,” he said.
“They can also provide medical personnel to provide support and assistance to those who may need it.”
Blair added that 150 Canadian Armed Forces personnel have deployed to the territory, in addition to the Canadian Rangers already stationed there. He said more military flights will evacuate residents later Friday.
He said one of those flights will focus on transporting patients from a local hospital to a hospital in Vancouver.
WATCH | Defence minister says focus is on getting people in N.W.T. to safety
When he was asked whether evacuees will be reimbursed, Defence Minister Bill Blair said the government’s focus right now is ‘on getting people to safety.’
Transport Minister Pablo Rodriguez said he’s asked all commercial airlines operating in the territory to provide assistance. Sajjan said Ottawa is working on contracting more aircraft to support the military effort.
Sajjan said he does not have a count of how many people have been evacuated, or an estimate of the damage the fires have caused.
“One thing I can say is that the evacuation is actually going extremely well,” he said.
“It’s been very orderly. RCMP has not reported any type of hiccups that have come from the evacuation, and we’ll have a much better idea by the end of today, hopefully, what the numbers [are] and also the time that it will take.”
Rodriguez demanded that Facebook’s parent company Meta lift a ban on Canadian news from its platforms to allow people to share information about major forest fires.
Rodriguez called the ban “unacceptable.”
Meta started blocking news on its Facebook and Instagram platforms for all users in Canada earlier this month in response to a law, the Online News Act, requiring internet giants to pay for links to news articles. Rodriguez, who was heritage minister prior to the recent cabinet shuffle, brought the law forward and has criticized Meta and Google for blocking news links in response.
“I warned [Meta] during the conversations in the past of the risks of blocking news,” he said.
“So I’m asking them to go back on their decision and allow people to have access to news and information in Canada.”
Meta told CBC News that it’s sticking with its position and said that government sites and other sources of reputable information are not banned.