WINNIPEG - Manitobans who refuse to evacuate during floods and other natural disasters could soon be arrested and made to pay for any rescue costs.
The NDP government introduced a bill Wednesday that would also fine people for obstructing the operation of diversion channels and other flood-fighting mechanisms.
"We're ... not going to put people at risk," said Steve Ashton, the minister responsible for the emergency measures organization.
"So if there's a situation where, for their own safety, they do have to leave, we're going to make it very clear that rather than send emergency responders into very dangerous situations, we will be in a position to take them into custody."
The bill has been contemplated since 2009, when a handful of homeowners along the Red River north of Winnipeg ignored evacuation warnings as the river rose. Some were later plucked from their rooftops by rescue crews battling surging water and huge chunks of ice.
Provincial law already allows for fines of up to $50,000 for ignoring an evacuation order. Ashton's bill would put more teeth into the orders by giving peace officers the right to enter an evacuation-zone home without a warrant, and apprehend and remove someone immediately if they refuse to comply.
The law also allows governments to recoup the cost of rescuing people who remain in or return to their homes after an evacuation order is issued.
"If we're in a situation to have to spend tens of thousands of dollars to rescue people that didn't heed warnings, it's just common sense. You shouldn't ask the people of Manitoba — the taxpayers — to foot that bill. They should foot that bill themselves," Ashton said.
The bill also contains penalties for protests similar to a blockade Monday by farmers near Portage La Prairie. The producers blocked the startup of a diversion channel to protest what they said was inadequate compensation for flooded farmland in 2011.
The bill provides for fines of up to $10,000 for anyone who obstructs the operation of emergency infrastructure.
Ashton has blasted the protesters. Their 12-hour blockade delayed the startup of the diversion channel just as water was rising on the Assiniboine River. Had the protest continued, he said, the river could have spilled its banks downstream toward Winnipeg.
Flood season is only now kicking into high gear in Manitoba because of a late thaw.
The province issued a flood warning Wednesday for some farm properties along the Assiniboine River between Millwood and Virden in western Manitoba.
A flood watch was issued further downstream between Virden and Brandon.
The government also warned of a potential for ice jams on the Assiniboine between Portage La Prairie and Headingley. The province added, however, that the river is expected to stay within it banks even if there are ice jams.
The rising water also threatened some rural roads. Eleven families in the Rural Municipality of Montcalm were asked to consider a voluntary evacuation because they may lose road access.