The territorial government took steps on Tuesday to reassure residents it will make compassionate exemptions to the current public health orders where necessary.
The territory acknowledged the orders, designed to combat the spread of Covid-19, “can have unintended consequences” in an update to its website.
Dr Kami Kandola, the chief public health officer, had already said people should feel free to visit others’ houses if providing vital care for a relative there, or offering childcare.
The latest advice instructs people to call the new 8-1-1 number to seek an exemption “on a case-by-case basis to address unique or dangerous situations.”
The NWT’s public health orders include a ban on all indoor gatherings and a limit of 10 people gathering outdoors, all of whom must maintain a two-metre distance from others.
Those orders have been criticized by civil liberties advocates for being too broad and vague in their wording. Residents could face a fine of up to $10,000 or six months in jail for any breaches.
“We do not want you to be in an unsafe situation because of our orders,” clarified the NWT government, acknowledging some people have been left unsure of how to act given the possibility of such a severe penalty.
If concerned about your safety – for example, in a situation where domestic violence is occurring – the NWT government instructs you to get somewhere safe with someone you trust as a priority. (Call an emergency service if you need to.)
Then contact the government by calling 8-1-1 or emailing Protect NWT to explain the situation. The request will be evaluated and an exemption issued if warranted.
“You will not be ticketed or fined under any circumstances in these situations,” the GNWT stated.
If you require a compassionate exemption, such as to say goodbye to a dying family member, the GNWT asks you to call 8-1-1 and select “self-isolation planning” or email Protect NWT to explain the situation. The chief public health officer’s staff will evaluate the request and decide whether or not to issue a compassionate exemption notice.
‘People need to know exactly what to expect’
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) last week said the NWT’s public health orders were too broad and lacked definition, requiring the kind of clarifying documents and interpretations subsequently issued by the territory.
Abby Deshman, director of the CCLA’s criminal justice program, said while the GNWT likely didn’t intend for its orders to “capture an enormous amount of conduct,” governments must be clear in legal orders that restrict liberties and freedoms.
“The legal orders you’re putting out need to be very precise,” Deshman said.
“They need to be very tailored to only the measures that you absolutely need to take, and people need to know exactly what to expect.”