A cavalcade of firetrucks, RCMP cruisers and bylaw vehicles looped around the city as passersby beeped their horns and waved in support last week.

Organized by Samantha Janes, the “appreciation parade,” the likes of which have been seen across the country, was a nod to healthcare employees working on the frontlines in the face of COVID-19.

There’s been no shortage of similar gestures. Stores are offering free coffee and discounts to essential staff who can’t work from home; and appreciation posts on social media aren’t hard to come by.

But Ellen Gillies says workers need more.

That’s why Gillies, along with fellow Our Time Yellowknife volunteer members Zoe Guile and Thomas Gagnon-van Leeuwen, organized Cheers for #FrontlineHeroes – Yellowknife.

It’s an initiative pushing for fair and adequate wages, paid sick leaves and more for frontline workers as they put their health on the line to serve others everyday.

“It’s really great there’s been so much of an outpouring of support and we really wanted to take it step further,” Gillies said Monday.

“Gratitude is great but gratitude is not enough,” she said.

Over the weekend, Yellowknifers were encouraged to post signs in their windows demanding better support for essential workers — from grocery store clerks and healthcare staff to truck drivers and food service employees.

One of several signs displayed in support of frontline workers as part of the Cheers for #FrontlineHeroes – Yellowknife.
photo courtesy of Zoe Guile

The social media-driven campaign, mirroring a nationwide trend and inspired by climate group 350 Canada, asked participating residents to put up signs with various slogans: “paid sick leave for all,” “frontline heroes deserve decent pay,” and “thank you frontline heroes.”

The unified message is that workers deserve more.

Participating residents also made noise outside their homes on Saturday as part of the campaign — other cities have witnessed people banging pots and pans to support frontline workers while pushing governments to enact employment changes. Our Time Yellowknife is also calling on residents to reach out to Premier Caroline Cochrane to share their thoughts on “why #FrontlineHeroes deserve better support,” states the Facebook event page.

Earlier this month, the federal government rolled out a $80-plus billion emergency economic relief package for Canadians left laid off, out of work or at home supporting family members in the wake of COVID-19. Here, the territorial government has earmarked more than $21 million in relief funds and the federal government announced more dollars for the North on Tuesday.

But many are falling through the cracks despite efforts to ease the economic strain brought on by the virus, said Gillies.

“It’s great that the government has implemented things like the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, and don’t I want to want to understate how important that is to a lot of people, but there are cracks in these programs,” she said.

A lot of the relief is aimed at people who have lost work, while many others who may not qualify for emergency benefits are still working and risking their health daily while bringing in far less income — like taxi drivers — said Gillies.

“People need to be safe at work; make a living wage and put food on the table, so we just wanted to make that statement,” she said.

Inequalities exposed in wake of COVID-19

Our Time Yellowknife is a volunteer, youth-led initiative promoting a Green New Deal — a climate justice plan that intersects with Indigenous sovereignty and social justice, including workers’ rights.

Gillies said the group is leading the windowsill-framed campaign because there’s stark parallels between the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing climate crisis.

“(COVID-19 is) really exposing a lot of inequalities that exist in our society. With both crises, we see the people who are most marginalized: black, Indigenous, people of colour, women, the working-class, youth and the elderly. These are people who are running our cash registers, driving us from place to place, taking care of us in the hospital, and they’re often the most impacted,” said Gillies.

If the voices behind Cheers for #FrontlineHeroes – Yellowknife are heard by governments, and changes are made, they can’t come as a temporary, band-aid fix in the midst of COVID-19, according to Gillies. The inequalities revealed during the crisis need solutions that will stick: frontline workers deserve steady incomes, emergency benefits and higher minimum wages, she insisted.

“We’ve been thinking a lot lately about how often in moments of crisis, what is considered impossible is being expanded to be possible,” she added, pointing to governments suspending evictions amid COVID-19, something that would have been inconceivable mere months ago.

In her limited trips around town, Gillies said she’s seen over a half a dozen signs posted in support of frontline workers across Yellowknife.

She hopes the support will continue.

Brendan Burke

As the Yellowknifer’s crime reporter, it’s my job to keep readers up to speed on all-things “cops and courts” related. From house fires and homicides to courtroom clashes, it’s my responsibility...

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