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Coronavirus

How some people landed themselves NWT Covid-19 fines

Last modified: July 5, 2021 at 11:20am


From cross-border hunting trips to isolation centre parties, records of the NWT’s first Covid-19 tickets shed new light on the infractions that led to some fines.  

As of June 16, 2021, NWT pandemic enforcement officials have investigated 6,052 complaints of public health order violations, issued 995 written and verbal warnings, and handed out 55 summary offence tickets.

Of those tickets, 52 people were each fined $1,725 for failing to follow pandemic rules. Two were fined $500 for knowingly providing false information to a public health officer. 

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Only one business has been fined. The Monkey Tree Pub received a fine worth $5,175 for allegedly violating indoor capacity limits in November 2020. The owners are contesting that charge

Public health officers issued the first ticket in June 2020 to a 25-year-old man from Edmonton who, they said, drove past the NWT’s Highway 1 border checkstop at high speed with no plan to isolate. RCMP later said the vehicle was stolen. Police arrested and charged the man, then escorted him across the border to High Level, Alberta, at his request. 

The details of many subsequent tickets have so far been scarce.

Through an access to information request, Cabin Radio obtained documents that provide insight into some of the alleged violations that enforcement officials felt warranted fines. Names and sensitive information have been redacted by the territorial government in line with privacy legislation. 

Cross-Canada walk 

In late July 2020, the territorial government – announcing six fines for failing to follow pandemic rules – included the case of a non-resident fined on July 3 after entering the NWT on foot at an “unauthorized entry point.”

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Newly acquired documents illuminate the detail of this case, which involved a man claiming to have been walking across Canada.

The documents show the man attempted to walk across the NWT-BC border and head to Fort Liard on June 17. He was stopped by an RCMP officer, who was at the border for an unrelated matter, and told that he would have to submit a self-isolation plan and isolate for 14 days in Yellowknife, Inuvik, Hay River, or Fort Smith. 

The man told the officer he had already been isolating outside the territory while camping in the bush but later admitted he had been at a grocery store in Fort Nelson, BC, four days earlier. When he asked for a ride to Fort Liard, the officer refused, saying that would breach the public health order. 

A closure sign by the side of Highway 7 in July 2020
A closure sign by the side of Highway 7 in July 2020. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio

“He became upset and started yelling that this was his land and he could do whatever he wanted and did not have to follow the rules of the health order,” an investigation report states. 

The man eventually returned to the BC side of the border but told the officer he planned to walk back into the NWT, saying the officer “couldn’t stay there forever.” 

The following day, Fort Liard RCMP received a complaint that a man was “passed out” on Highway 7. There, police located the same man sitting on the side of the road. He told the officers he planned to walk to Behchokǫ̀ to see his sisters.

Police said the man “refused to accept that he was putting the community of Fort Liard and the residents of the Northwest Territories at risk.” The man reportedly told the officers “the territory was his and he had more right to be in it than them” and later demanded they drive him the eight hours to Hay River to isolate. 

The man eventually accepted a ride back to the border but again told officers he planned to walk back into the territory at a later time. 

Two weeks later, on July 2, an environmental health officer received a report that the same man was at a home in Behchokǫ̀. In an email to his supervisor, the officer wrote that when he knocked on the door, the woman who answered was “extremely happy” to see him. She explained she was worried the man had not isolated and might be infectious so she had been forcing him to stay outside in a tent. 

The man subsequently admitted he had not filed a self-isolation plan, saying he “just didn’t want to do it.” He accepted a ride to Yellowknife’s Chateau Nova isolation centre. 

The following afternoon, another public health officer went to the hotel to issue the man a $1,725 ticket.

According to a self-isolation plan the man eventually did file, he began walking across Canada on April 8 and his trip to the NWT was the second leg after walking from Dawson City, Yukon to Fort Nelson. He said he had been camping along the Trans Canada Trail and had not been in contact with anyone save for RCMP officers. 

“Someone called your guys on me while I was here visiting my family,” he wrote. 

“Now, I am being forced to self-isolate here even though I’ve already been alone for 20 days between Fort Nelson and Behchokǫ̀. The reason I avoided the bureaucratic steps implemented is because this journey has already cost me over $10,000 since leaving New Brunswick back in April and I simply could not self-isolate at a hotel considering the federal government has seen it fit to only pay me $1,000 within the past month (half of what CERB promised) and most of that has gone towards supplies etc.”

Records show the man had previously attempted to enter the Yukon without isolating.

Cross-border travel

Two women were ticketed in Inuvik for repeatedly failing to self-isolate after returning from a trip to Eagle Plains, Yukon, on July 24. 

That day, a resident in Fort McPherson told enforcement officials they were concerned that three people – two women and a man – were in the community and weren’t isolating after they posted photos on Snapchat showing them at a bar in Eagle Plains the previous night.

While the three people initially claimed those were old photos, staff at the Yukon hotel confirmed they had records that the three individuals booked a room on July 23. A staff member recognized two of the people, saying in an email: “We used to get a lot of traffic from the North before all this Covid-19.” 

Two public health officers from Inuvik drove to Fort McPherson to tell the three people they needed to book into the isolation centre at the Mackenzie Hotel in Inuvik by 6pm on July 25, which they did. While they were scheduled to remain in isolation until August 8, reports show the women continued to flout the rules. 

“Numerous complaints have been received regarding the two defendants and they remain in contravention … at the time of this writing,” states a prosecutor’s information sheet dated August 5. 

On the morning of July 26, a worker at the Inuvik isolation centre reported concern that the individuals planned to break isolation, were drunk, and planned to drive. A public health officer located the two women at a house party with up to eight people where he took photos of them hugging and sharing beer with others. He informed household members and the women that they needed to isolate at the hotel and should not be visiting people. 

The officer drove the women back to the isolation centre.

The MacKenzie Hotel in Inuvik. Emily Blake/Cabin Radio

Interviewed by the public health officer, occupants of the house that held the party said they didn’t know the women, who showed up “uninvited and unannounced,” and didn’t know they were supposed to be isolating.

“Not one word of that. Nothing. If anyone told me that, I would’ve pushed them right off the stairs. The door was wide open and they just walked in,” one of them said. 

The following day, the officer received a call that one of the women was at a house in town. When he went there, he was told the woman had been out boating during the night and came to the house to sleep. He reminded her about the rules to not visit people and gave her a ride back to the isolation centre. 

On July 28, the officer issued a $1,725 ticket to each of the women at the isolation centre. While he reported that “one of them appeared concerned,” he said the other laughed and said she would get her lawyer to speak to him.

Hunting trip

Two men from Ontario arrived in Yellowknife on the night of September 19, 2020, with plans to head out on a hunting trip with one of their brothers who lives in the territory. Documents show the men “did not have any idea,” arriving at the airport following a flight from Edmonton, that they were required to file a self-isolation plan and isolate for 14 days. 

This was a recurring problem at the time. An email states similar cases had been an “ongoing issue” since the start of the pandemic. The email suggested to enforcement managers that someone check Edmonton’s airport had signage informing passengers of the rules. 

“Four nights in a row we have had people show up from this flight who should not be in the Northwest Territories. Each and every time they have said they did not see or know of any of the information in and around being in the Northwest Territories,” the email stated.

The NWT resident welcoming the Ontario men initially insisted on driving them out to a lake, but the men eventually agreed to go to the isolation centre in Yellowknife. While the shuttle driver reported seeing them put their bags on a luggage cart and later sitting on a bench outside the hotel smoking, the men never registered at the hotel. Enforcement officials believed the brother may have picked them up as he knew where they were headed. 

When enforcement officials contacted the brother, they said he “became very belligerent” and said the men had left on September 20. Despite contacting numerous airlines, officials could find no record of the men leaving. An investigation report states a public health officer mailed tickets to police in Perth, Ontario, to serve on the men.

Isolation centre parties

A total of 6,440 people had checked in to NWT isolation centres by June 16, 2021. However, not all of the centre’s occupants were following the rules. 

One woman isolating at the Chateau Nova in Yellowknife was fined for allegedly partying in her room with two men who were not isolating. RCMP were called to the room to break up a fight on September 16.

Under isolation centre rules, guests are not allowed to visit other guests in their rooms. Isolating people must avoid contact with anyone outside their room as much as possible. 

Yellowknife's Chateau Nova Hotel
Yellowknife’s Chateau Nova Hotel, which serves as an isolation centre. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio

An email to the woman on November 5 indicates the ticket against her was withdrawn. Enforcement officials did not indicate why.

This was not the only time someone isolating stood accused of welcoming guests. An email from a Yellowknife isolation centre manager details several cases on September 29 where, he wrote, people who should have been isolating were seen by security staff coming and going from rooms or sharing cigarettes and bottles with non-isolating guests. 

“Folks, we could use your help and some ticketing please,” the manager wrote to enforcement staff. “Looks like even a security person outside the door doesn’t stop anyone, nor does point-blank confronting these folks.” 

As a result, one woman was ticketed. A housekeeper had spotted her entering her room with a non-isolating man. 

No ticket issued to Ice Lake Rebels participant

While public health officials are largely careful not to discuss the detail of investigations, there has been at least one case where an individual accused of breaking pandemic rules was publicly named and shamed. 

In March 2020, Chief Public Health Officer Dr Kami Kandola issued a statement saying the territorial government planned to investigate Mike “Pike” Harrison, an NWT resident known by some for his appearance in the reality TV series Ice Lake Rebels. NNSL had reported Harrison planned to ignore orders to isolate. (Harrison disputes the precise circumstances under which that interview was recorded.)

According to the newspaper, Harrison said he had been isolating in BC and planned to drive to his remote residence in Lindberg Landing rather than head to Hay River to isolate. The newspaper quoted him as saying isolation in Hay River would put him at greater risk for Covid-19, and health officials had not assessed him based on his unique circumstances.  

Kandola was furious.

“He chose to prioritize his own personal comfort over the safety of our territory. And he chose to go on to embolden others to ignore our medical direction by touting his act in the media,” she said in a statement at the time. 

Harrison objected to that characterization.

“He stated he was being cast as a criminal and that he had PTSD and that he had been ejected from the liquor store in Fort Simpson. He wanted an apology from the CPHO and GNWT,” states a May 4, 2020 email from Chief Environmental Health Officer Peter Workman, recounting an interaction with Harrison.

Dr Kami Kandola speaks at a press conference on April 21, 2021. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio
Dr Kami Kandola speaks at a press conference on April 21, 2021. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio

Mike Westwick, then a spokesperson for the NWT government’s Covid-19 response, said in an email chain – before Kandola made her public remarks – that Harrison was “openly scoffing [at] the order and admitting it in the newspaper.” Westwick’s email was titled “blatant, proud, admitted violation.” 

Kandola responded that she agreed and questioned if enforcement officials would be able to ticket Harrison. 

“In the public eye, it will [be] important that we lay charges,” she wrote in a subsequent email. 

In interviews following the publication of her statement regarding Harrison, Kandola declined to comment further citing privacy reasons. As more time passed, documents show, Harrison became increasingly concerned about the potential for prosecution and the lack of communication from public health officials.

On April 17, a Protect NWT worker took notes on a 26-minute call with Harrison where they reported he was “agitated” and “almost entirely ranting with few breaks.” The worker wrote that Harrison said he was “worried and stressed” and “he doesn’t think there is another Canadian who has been shamed in the press like him.”

On May 4, Harrison again contacted Protect NWT requesting information on the investigation into him, saying the health department could not “hang him out to dry without any follow-up information.” 

Documents show an investigation was opened into Harrison and officials appeared eager to charge him, but, as earlier reported by CBC, Harrison was never fined as the NWT government ultimately concluded it had no legal grounds to do so.

An April 8 email from Workman to Kandola stated his team had not received the entry log for travellers from the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs, so there was no way to confirm who had filed a self-isolation plan. Workman added GNWT lawyers said the territory wasn’t yet able to issue summary offence tickets related to pandemic rules and, if the territory wanted to charge Harrison, it would have to take him to court – which would take at least 12 to 18 months.

“We are looking to amend the summary convictions to create ticketable offences but that won’t be retroactive,” Workman wrote.

“I don’t think you have grounds to do an apprehension.”

An October 1 email from Workman to Covid-19 enforcement team lead Dennis Marchiori concluded that “successful prosecution was unlikely” in Harrison’s case and the risk of quashing the order, or failed prosecution, “was too large” as too much time had passed, some of the evidence “introduced doubt,” and Harrison would likely challenge the charge. 

Workman wrote there was “some confusion” about the public health order when Harrison entered the territory and enforcement officials faced challenges acquiring evidence he had broken the rules, including at least one member of “the media” declining an interview. Workman added Harrison had filed a self-isolation plan after returning to the NWT and, according to the community of Fort Simpson, had not been in contact with anyone at heightened risk related to Covid-19.

Enforcement across Canada

Since Covid-19 rules were enacted across Canada, legal advocates have scrutinized their impact on residents’ rights and freedoms. 

A recent report from the Canadian Civil Liberties Association states the decentralization of emergency enforcement led to a “patchwork of legal regulations and enforcement approaches,” and Canadians’ experiences had “varied dramatically.”

Since it’s often up to the discretion of enforcement officials to police these laws, the report notes, that can lead to “selective and unequal enforcement,” which disproportionately impacts Black, Indigenous, and other racialized groups, people with precarious housing, recent immigrants, and members of the LGBTQ2S community. 

While some provinces and territories have focused on recommendations and education when it comes to public health orders, others have taken a more punitive approach.

The report says that between April 1 and June 15, 2020, 10,000 tickets were issued or charges laid resulting in more than $13 million in fines across Canada. The majority of those tickets were issued in Quebec, followed by Ontario and Nova Scotia.

During the second wave of the pandemic, the report says enforcement across Canada increased and legal restrictions were much harsher in many places. Laws requiring masks became more commonplace and limitations on movement and gatherings becoming stricter in Ontario and Quebec. The political focus on punishment was most notable in Manitoba, the report concludes, where the province hired a private security force to increase ticketing. 

The report states there was no comprehensive reporting of enforcement across the three territories but available information showed a slight increase in punitive measures in Nunavut and the NWT. 

Health officials in the NWT have repeatedly stressed their focus is on education and warnings before they issue tickets for non-compliance. A spokesperson for the Covid-19 secretariat told Cabin Radio if an investigation “reveals a misunderstanding” of the rules, a public officer will take time to explain those rules. 

In cases where tickets have been issued, records show enforcement officials have gathered evidence including interviews with numerous witnesses, photographs, reports from isolation centre staff and security, and flight records, before charges are laid.  

Even then, some cases get dropped. By March 31 this year, 42 tickets had been issued, 24 of which led to what were labelled convictions – either because the person paid the fine or was convicted by a judge when they didn’t attend court. Ten were withdrawn and eight charges were still before the courts. 

CBC reported in June that the Covid-19 Secretariat does not track how many fines have been paid as tickets are filed with the courts, which manages cases and collects fines. 

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