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Bigger to send formal request to Premier Ford for OPP checkpoints on Highway 69

 “We have very few tools to slow the spread” says Bigger as he looks to province for assistance
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Greater Sudbury Mayor Brian Bigger is formally requesting province set up what he called “awareness checkpoints” on Highway 69 to discourage travel into and out of the North as part of efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19 and new variants of the virus that causes it. (File)

Greater Sudbury Mayor Brian Bigger said this week he is formally asking Premier Doug Ford to set up checkpoints on Highway 69 to discourage travel into and out of Northern Ontario.

The mayor told Sudbury.com during an interview on Jan. 21 that it was time for the province to step up and do something to protect Northern Ontario.

"Short of everyone in Greater Sudbury being vaccinated we need the province to step up and do their part," said Bigger during the Jan. 21 interview. "If it means checkpoints, they have the OPP. If there are other solutions and if they refer to our local police, then they need to change some legislation. Encouragement is not working and there are real impacts of people not following the province's suggestions."

Former Sudbury mayor Jim Gordon has spoken publicly about the need for a Northern Ontario bubble that would prevent travellers from the southern part of the province from entering the north.

On Feb. 9 during a meeting of city council, Bigger said he is taking the next step in the effort toward securing a bubble around Sudbury and Northern Ontario.

Bigger tabled a motion that will see him send a letter to the premier, asking to establish awareness checkpoints along Highway 69 in order to discourage travel from Southern Ontario to the North.

“We only have a few levers, one is vaccinations and the other is to discourage the spread of the virus and variants, so if we can slow the spread then that would be a success -- we’re not going to stop it,” said Bigger.

“Hopefully we can slow it by discouraging non-essential travel.”

Bigger’s motion noted that Greater Sudbury has been doing all that it can to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and that much of the community transmission of the virus has been through travel into the city.
Ward 1 Coun. Mark Signoretti questioned if checkpoints would have any impact on supply chains and local businesses.

“We don’t want to stop business from coming back and forth so I just want to make sure that the spirit of the motion is related to non-essential travel,” said Signoretti.

Bigger pointed out that the motion contained a direction that the letter include allowing travel for transport of goods, groceries and essential items.

“There’s no intention to stop important or essential trade here,” said Bigger.

Ward 2 Coun. Michael Vagnini, a longstanding member of the Police Services Board, was curious as to whether or not the mayor would be looking to have Greater Sudbury Police Services involved in the potential awareness checkpoints.

“Are you going to be including the GSPS? Personally I think it’s a good motion but we’re already weighted within our area, so is there a line where you believe it should be set up?” said Vagnini.

Bigger said he’s cognizant of the workload that the local police force has on their hands and that this request to the Premier is strictly for the assistance of the Ontario Provincial Police.

“My request to this point and from my one on one conversation with the Premier is not to impact our Greater Sudbury Police Service, we are already fully occupied,” said Bigger.

“I really want people to understand that things have changed and the variants are more transmissible. We have very few tools beyond the instructions from public health to protect ourselves and slow the spread; this is one other potential tool if the province will provide that support for us.”

The motion was passed unanimously and Mayor Bigger will be sending a formal request to the Premier to ask for the assistance of the OPP to set up checkpoints on Highway 69.