The Northwest Territories has created a new “compliance and enforcement task force” to ensure people follow orders and restrictions related to the Covid-19 pandemic.
At a news conference on Wednesday, the NWT government said around 30 staff were being placed into the new task force, to be led by the Department of Lands’ Conrad Baetz.
The officers will have a range of powers to investigate breaches of the Public Health Act and the chief public health officer’s orders.
The NWT did not on Wednesday announce any new orders but the chief public health officer, Dr Kami Kandola, said an order related to gatherings would follow within a week.
The only order in place to date relates to travel restrictions and mandatory self-isolation for those entering the territory.
Officers – referred to as public health officers – will provide a visible presence in NWT communities and investigate complaints filed to the Protect NWT email address and hotline (1-833-378-8297).
“We expect all residents to do the responsible thing but we also need to prepare to enforce those orders where necessary,” said Premier Caroline Cochrane.
“[The task force] will strengthen the territory’s ability to enforce measures put in place to protect the health of all of our residents.”
Disobeying the order related to travel and self-isolation carries a maximum penalty of a $10,000 fine and six months in jail.
‘We have heard you’
Diane Thom, the NWT’s health minister, said the task force would expand to include officers in all 33 of the territory’s communities.
Baetz said officers will be drawn from the likes of Department of Lands officers and land-use inspectors. They will be backed up by RCMP and members of municipal enforcement.
Dr Kandola said the officers would be “people communities know and respect” and would be rapidly trained to enforce the Public Health Act and related orders.
“We have heard you. We have investigated. We are coming back stronger,” Kandola said, speaking to residents.
“What residents want to see is more enforcement. They want to feel safe. They want to see people protecting their communities.”
Kandola said the “strong and nimble” task force “will be on the ground, visible and acting upon your concerns.”
Baetz said he expected officers to deal primarily with complaints that people are not isolating in a designated larger community, “challenges with leaving isolation centres,” and people not following instructions to check in to isolation centres and submit a self-isolation plan.
“Apprehension is one of the very last tools we have available,” he said, asked how officers would be able to enforce measures.
“That said, if it did come to a situation where there was a significant public threat as as result of somebody not heeding one of Dr Kandola’s orders, the situation would be assessed and we would make sure whatever actions we do take are done so safely and with the assistance of our partners.”
‘Months, not weeks’
The NWT government reiterated all residents needed to follow basic steps like physical distancing, hand-washing, trying to avoid touching their face, and avoiding gatherings.
Thom, the health minister, said: “This will be months, not weeks, and it is clear our steps must get bolder in order to meet this head-on. The unfortunate reality is there will be a minority of people that will not walk with us.
“The careless actions of this minority put our families, friends, and communities at higher risk. The [task force] will see to it that this is not tolerated.
“The consequences of not complying are very real.”