NWT’s ‘Covid cops’ serve $5,000 ticket to Yellowknife pub

Last modified: January 8, 2021 at 9:59am

Yellowknife’s Monkey Tree Pub has been issued a ticket totalling $5,175 for violation of a Covid-19 public health order limiting the capacity of indoor areas.

The ticket followed a visit to the Range Lake Road pub by the territory’s pandemic enforcement officers on a Saturday night in mid-November.

The owners of the pub must pay the $4,500 fine and $675 surcharge by March 2 or appear in Territorial Court that day to face a judge.


The Monkey Tree is the only business charged to date by the territory’s enforcement team, said Covid-19 Secretariat spokesperson Mike Westwick.

The enforcement team has handed out 38 tickets since the pandemic began. Individuals’ failure to follow self-isolation protocols resulted in 36 of them, while one was for violation of travel restrictions.

The ticket issued to the Monkey Tree was “for failure to comply with Emerging Wisely Phase Two requirements under the public health order in the North Slave region,” Westwick said by email.

Phase two of the NWT’s pandemic recovery plan, dubbed Emerging Wisely, has been active since June 12, 2020.


It states restaurants and bars must operate with no more than 25 customers indoors, no more than 50 people in outdoor dining areas and patios, physical distancing of at least two metres among people from different households, and no dance floors or live music. (Alterations to those rules can be granted on a case-by-case basis. The Monkey Tree is understood to have received an amendment allowing it a maximum capacity of 125 people.)

Monkey Tree co-owner Jennifer Vornbrock declined an interview request but said she hoped to speak with the NWT government prior to the court date.

“All I can tell you is that we will be contesting the charge,” said Vornbrock, confirming the ticket related to capacity limits.

Vornbrock and the Monkey Tree have been finding ways to stay in business while adapting to public health orders. In April 2020, the pub and adjoining Stake restaurant launched a delivery service called Easy Meals. In June, a drive-in and dine service was offered.


In the month after the pandemic first hit and as many businesses closed, Stake and the Monkey Tree had to lay off “100 percent” of their staff, co-owner Steve Dinham said at the time.

Even with the federal government’s 75-percent emergency wage subsidy, Dinham said the business had no money with which to pay the remaining 25 percent and bring people back.

“It’s been a huge struggle. We’re trying to figure out what we can do until the time comes that we can get back to a regular routine,” Dinham said in April last year.

Vornbrock has been an outspoken critic of the cost of the GNWT’s Covid-19 Secretariat.

“This is a joke. The government wants to spend approximately $100 million on a new department dedicated to Covid?! This is insane – we have no cases,” she posted to Facebook last year.

“There is currently one GNWT employee to serve three households across the territory. This is enough to handle Covid operations.

“If the business sector was able to ‘pivot’ as requested and expected, then the GNWT should figure that out too – move bodies to where they are needed and perhaps ensure efficiencies within roles.”

Clarification: January 8, 2021 – 9:58am. This article did not initially state that the Monkey Tree Pub sought and received, under the NWT’s public health orders, permission to operate with a capacity of 125 people. That information has now been added to our report.