You probably heard the rumour: a Yellowknife driver being fined $4,500, and their passenger being told to pay $1,000, after the NWT introduced no-gathering rules.
However, both RCMP and the NWT government say the story – told a thousand times by Yellowknife residents to each other in the past two days, then shared online by some – isn’t true.
We haven’t been able to reach the driver and passenger in question. The NWT government says its new public health officers did not issue or request any such fine, but RCMP officers could have issued the fines separately. When we approached RCMP, they said they didn’t issue any fines either.
However, it’s important to be clear: you can be fined for driving in a car with passengers who don’t live in the same home as you.
The NWT banned all indoor gatherings on Saturday. That means you can’t go to visit your next-door neighbour, they can’t come to you, and you can’t go inside the homes of family or friends – unless you have an extremely good reason (like providing essential care to an elderly relative or offering childcare).
What does that mean for cars? They are considered “indoors,” the NWT government said.
“Cars are being treated as though they are indoors – so in general, we are not allowing those who don’t live together to drive together,” reads a question-and-answer document prepared by the territorial government to help residents interpret the new rules.
“This is particularly true for non-essential trips like a cruise around town with a friend. We will enforce this rule, and you could be fined,” the document continues. (The territory thinks this is so important that the part about enforcing the rule, and you being fined, is shown in bold in the original document.)
There are some cases where you won’t be fined for being in the same car as someone from a different household.
Examples given by the NWT government are:
- driving a family member or friend to an important medical appointment when nobody else is available to do it; and
- helping a healthcare worker whose vehicle broke down, if nobody from their household was on hand to help them get to work.
Cabin Radio understands that activities like helping a family member to get groceries will also be permitted, if they cannot make the journey themselves and nobody in their household can help.
The measure is intended to target non-essential driving where people from different households are in the same vehicle without any important reason.
“As with any activity where it is difficult to maintain physical distance of at least two metres, those who must share a car should take precautions,” the NWT government states.
“Wearing a fabric mask while driving and disinfecting your vehicle after sharing it are two good ways to stay safe.”
Asked by Cabin Radio if public health officers had issued any $4,500 fine to a driver this weekend, or $1,000 to a passenger, the NWT government said no. The new team of public health officers isn’t allowed to pull vehicles over for that purpose.
“If it were required based on public health risk, we could coordinate that through the [pandemic compliance] task force by involving other authorities, such as the RCMP,” read an emailed response from the territorial government on Monday evening.
“We have not handed out any fines to this effect yet. You may want to follow up with the RCMP about fines like this being doled out – it was not done by our compliance and enforcement task force.”
RCMP, responding on Wednesday, said: “Yellowknife RCMP did not issue any fines over the weekend of April 10-13 regarding … pubic health orders.”
The bottom line is: unless there’s a really good reason for being in a car with someone from another household, don’t do it. You definitely could be fined – even if the stories circulating this weekend weren’t true.
What does that mean for taxis?
Taxis get an exemption. They are considered an essential public service as the only means for some people to get anywhere for essential supplies, or get to work. Public transit is the same.
“They will keep operating while everything possible is done to keep physical distance in the workplace,” the NWT government advises.
“We understand it is difficult to stay two metres apart in taxis. The Workers’ Safety and Compensation Commission is working with companies to recommend practical, affordable solutions to reduce risk for their drivers.
“Members of the public are recommended to wear fabric masks and sit in the back seat of taxis to reduce their risk, and do their part to protect drivers.”
Whether or not fines were handed out to private drivers and passengers over the past weekend, you can expect them in future.
The NWT government made clear last week that it considered the Easter weekend to be mostly about education, rather than reaching immediately for fines or, worse, apprehension and possible jail time.
Technically, you can be fined up to $10,000 and given a six-month jail sentence for breaking the chief public health officer’s orders.
Cabin Radio understands members of the new enforcement team spent periods of the Easter weekend in training sessions, including how to safely put on and take off protective equipment like masks.
Public health officers – drawn from NWT government departments by converting the likes of wildlife officers and land use inspectors – have been issued a “toolkit” of instructions, including how to read someone their Charter rights and how to deliver written warnings to people.
Those instructions are evolving so quickly that several editions of the documentation have already been issued since the first moves to create the so-called pandemic police force, on April 4.
The toolkit for public health officers is also understood to include phone numbers for a range of NWT lawyers, should anyone spoken to by an officer require one.