Coronavirus
Politics

Did the NWT’s health minister break her territory’s Covid-19 rules?


NWT health minister Diane Thom is accused of breaking her territory’s Covid-19 rules in a complaint filed with the territory’s integrity commissioner.

Nunakput MLA Jackie Jacobson sent the complaint, which claims Thom spent time at a cabin in March with at least nine others, including people who were supposed to be self-isolating.

In a letter to the NWT’s integrity commissioner, David Jones, Jacobson states a formal complaint about Thom’s alleged cabin trip was first filed with the territory’s deputy minister of health on April 10.

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When in March the trip is alleged to have taken place is not clear from Jacobson’s letter, which was first reported by NNSL. Jacobson has reportedly confirmed to NNSL and CBC that the letter is his, but could not be reached by Cabin Radio.

The NWT’s borders were closed on Saturday, March 21, and advance notice of that move was given to all residents a day earlier. Anyone returning from outside the territory was instructed to self-isolate for two weeks, with limited exceptions.

The letter alleges Thom went to a cabin at Inuvik’s Airport Lake, spent time with people who should have been in self-isolation, and was seen driving a snow machine while intoxicated.

“This government expected everyone to comply with its health measures. There were no exceptions given for the minister,” Jacobson writes. “The fact she disregarded her own order shows that she believes the rules do not apply to her.”

Jacobson also claims Premier Caroline Cochrane misled MLAs by denying formal complaints about the alleged incident had been received. Jacobson says Cochrane “actively instructed [the minister] to play down the seriousness of the event” once other MLAs were made aware.

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What happens next

Requests sent on Friday for interviews with Thom and Cochrane had not been answered by Saturday, nor had the territorial government provided any other comment.

The Legislative Assembly’s communications team did not respond to a request for comment.

Jones, the integrity commissioner, told Cabin Radio he was “not able to comment” about Jacobson’s complaint.

The NWT’s legislation compels Jones to carry out an investigation then issue a report either dismissing the complaint or recommending that an inquiry be held.

Complaints can be dismissed if they are considered “frivolous or vexatious,” if there are insufficient grounds to warrant an inquiry, if the complaint doesn’t make clear that rules were broken, if the contravention was “minor or was committed through inadvertence or by reason of an error in judgment made in good faith,” if the person being complained about “took all reasonable measures to prevent a contravention,” or if the public interest would not be served by an inquiry.

Otherwise, an inquiry headed by a sole adjudicator will be ordered – most likely a judge, retired judge, or an integrity commissioner from elsewhere in Canada.

If that adjudicator upholds the complaint, an MLA can be reprimanded, fined up to $25,000, suspended for up to 30 sitting days of the House, or even have their seat vacated.

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