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NWT Sunday briefing: Letters, weather and more

Welcome to our Sunday briefing, the home of letters you write to Cabin Radio, a weather outlook, and some notes on the week ahead.

Hello. I’m Ollie, the newsroom editor, and I’m writing this. Our feature image this week is from a year ago today: the lineup at Yellowknife’s drive-through Covid-19 testing site. A year later, how different do things feel to you?

One difference: the NWT is now getting ahead of national guidance in a way that wasn’t the case a year ago. The territory vaccinated its residents sooner than most and now argues that it is seeing the resulting immunity fade in a way that hasn’t yet happened farther south, where vaccination took place later.

That’s why boosters are being rolled out to people as young as 50 in some NWT communities, starting next week. That is not national advice. Dr Kami Kandola has been clear that it’s happening on her say-so based on her best understanding of the NWT’s data and data from other nations who were quick to vaccinate, like Israel.

The rest of Canada will be watching how that pans out in the NWT and learning from it. Read our article for more information about why Dr Kandola thinks this step is necessary and her explanation of how vaccine strength data in the NWT differs from the national picture. (You can also watch the full video interview, which we broadcast live on Friday.)

Quite a light mailbag this week. If you read something that you feel strongly about, or want to raise any issue related to the Northwest Territories, email us. Thanks to everyone for putting up with and largely supporting our transition away from Facebook comments – it has worked wonders for mental health in the newsroom and we have had very few complaints. (Remember, we did also create a public Facebook group for discussion of our reporting, so in practice little has changed, but the moderation workload has dropped significantly.)

A shoutout, by the way, to Yellowknife resident Jane Taylor. Jane has just-about completed an Illustration and Concept Art diploma at Algonquin College and you’ll see her illustrations accompanying more of our reporting in future. The artwork at the top of The Deck (our new public Facebook group) is hers:

We first hired Jane a year ago, while she was still at high school in Yellowknife. This is one of my favourite illustrations of hers, which we use to illustrate reporting about northern internet access:

Illustration: Jane Taylor/École St Patrick High School, Yellowknife

Illustration gets overlooked in reporting. Our journalism means nothing if we can’t convince you to open it and read it, and often the subject matter may not be overly visual, which leaves us struggling for interesting images that invite you to click a link and read our work. Jane’s role is valuable: illustrate reporting that might otherwise be visually unappealing so that you engage with it. More of her work will appear on our site soon (tip: watch out for it when we receive more detail about proof-of-vaccination at NWT businesses this week).

As ever, thanks for reading our work. If you value it enough to contribute a small sum each month, we gratefully appreciate all donations made through Patreon. Those donations make all the difference when we do things like hire local talent to make our reporting better. — Ollie

✉︎ Letters

Vaccine QR codes

The NWT government introduced new, downloadable proof of vaccination documents. They include a QR code for use in apps that verify vaccination status. Numerous people reported problems to us, mostly an inability to use the QR code with certain apps. The NWT’s health authority had to issue a clarification that the online form usually failed if people tried to include their middle names.

From Tania Oosting:

I noticed you mentioned the glitch with given names. My boyfriend’s first name didn’t even work, it wanted the abbreviated version.

I have also noticed that the QR code cannot be scanned with an Android (Samsung). It gives an error that it requires a special app with no instruction on which app. I emailed Protect NWT and they told me to call, so I called, was put on hold for 15 minutes and then my call was dropped.

Really makes me worry if I have to present my QR code to anyone with an Android.

From the editor: We haven’t had any other complaints about issues on the Android operating system, and our own experience is the code ordinarily behaves well on Android. We have, however, produced a webpage explaining a few reasons why you might be having trouble. In many cases, it seems to be because southern jurisdictions’ apps only read their own QR codes – so if you’re in Alberta, for example, Alberta’s app currently only understands QR codes provided by the Alberta government. We’re told work is under way nationally to improve this.

Pools and shelters

From Trent Peterson:

Yellowknife city councillors have expressed support both for the proposed aquatic centre and plans to hold a referendum to vote to borrow money to help its construction.

These are quotes from city councillors in a recent Cabin Radio article:

“I do think it’s a really exciting project.”

“I think this community deserves to have a wonderful facility like this that’s open to everyone of all ages for lots of different purposes, from recreation and leisure to high-performance sports.”

Though I agree this may be a wonderful facility to add to Yellowknife, I feel there is something else that this community really needs. Day shelters.

We have a large population of community members that are passed by on the streets every day that need shelter, food, and support services. Our vulnerable and underhoused population are now faced with winter and not enough space to keep warm. This is the second winter in a row that the Yellowknife city councillors have voted no to proposed temporary day shelters. Even after it seems clear that there are no more options to meet an immediate need, and a permanent facility has not been able to be built yet.

Further quote from the city councillors:

“Something like this pool is one way our community can redistribute wealth by taking property taxes and spending them on something that everybody in the community has equal access to, regardless of their financial standing.”

Will our vulnerable population have access to this facility? They have no wealth to redistribute. What prompts a decision to vote down a shelter space that is needed to keep people alive? Some of these people have suffered their whole life, some are residential school survivors. How can the city councillors choose to not shelter vulnerable citizens but easily choose to spend money to benefit the well-off citizens? Is this an act of systematic racism?

If only the city council could put the same passion and enthusiasm into solutions for shelter and housing. The vulnerable population just need a place to stay warm this winter, at little to no cost to the city. We need to make choices that benefit all our residents, the vulnerable and underhoused included.

From the editor: plans for a shelter are now advancing, though notably only because the GNWT declared a local emergency in order to avoid having to go anywhere near city council and the municipal permitting process. If you don’t like city council having the ability to reject downtown day shelter locations, you’ll probably be a fan of the city’s new zoning bylaw, which – if passed – will remove council’s ability to do so, as long as a shelter application meets given criteria. (Conversely, if you are glad council intervened, be aware that the rules are set to change as things stand.)

On the pool front, read the plans carefully before you vote next month. It’s a lot of money. It’s also worth noting that almost $13 million dedicated to this project is federal cash that cannot be spent on anything else and must be given back if no aquatic centre is built. (In other words, it’s not entirely the case that council is spending money on an aquatic centre that it could be spending on housing and shelters.) The proposed design is a 25-metre pool, so this is not a pool that would likely be used in future to host the Canada Games or a similar championship, which ordinarily requires a 50-metre pool. Depending on your point of view, that’s either a good thing or a bad thing.

Voting no to the aquatic centre would probably mean retrofitting the existing Ruth Inch Memorial Pool, likely to itself be a costly project that could leave Yellowknife without any pool for a long time, so there are costs and other implications to consider no matter what you vote for.

☼ Weather outlook

Yellowknife: A dry week forecast with little variation in the weather. Sun and cloud daily, highs of around 1C (though slightly colder on Monday) and overnight lows of around -3C. Possibly too cloudy for any great aurora nights.

Inuvik: Flurries and some cloud on Sunday but after that a sunny week, in contrast to Yellowknife. Down to -10C on Monday night but getting warmer as the week goes on, with a high of 2C forecast on Thursday.

Norman Wells: Cold and clear on Monday, and Tuesday, with overnight lows down to -12C. Flurries on Sunday. Thursday is again the warm spot with the high up to 1C.

Hay River: A cloudy start to the week but sunny from Tuesday onward, with Friday reaching 6C. Overnight lows of around 3C.

Fort Smith: Nippy at night on Sunday and Monday, down to -7C. Tuesday and Wednesday will be the sunniest days. Warmer on Friday, up to 6C, but some cloud around too.

Fort Simpson: A cloudier week than many other parts of the NWT. Lows down to -10C on Monday night, highs of around 2C except Monday, which may struggle to reach 0C.

✐ Notes

Monday is municipal election day in Fort Simpson, Fort Smith, Hay River, Inuvik, and Norman Wells. Only Fort Smith has an election for mayor as only one candidate ran in all of the other communities. The two candidates in Fort Smith are Jessica Cox and Fred Daniels.

There’s no municipal election in Yellowknife because council moved to four-year terms in 2018, which means the next election in the territorial capital will be this time next year. There are, however, school board elections.

MLAs’ fall sitting at the NWT legislature had been due to start this week (pushed back from October 14 because of the Covid-19 outbreak) but has now been delayed again. We won’t get the new dates till later in the week. The problem is presumably – they haven’t actually spelled this out – the fact that some technical staff at the legislature have contracted Covid-19, which hampers the legislature’s ability to run a virtual sitting of MLAs online, as is now planned.

Flu vaccine clinics begin in the NWT on Thursday. Book online in Yellowknife or call your health centre elsewhere.

Taken a great photo in the NWT? Send it in and we might run it as the lead photo in a future Sunday briefing.

Last week brought a succession of stunning nights for the northern lights. Caroline sent us this photo:

“As we cope with being indoors and recent reminders to acknowledge what one is thankful for,” Caroline wrote, “I am thankful to have a backyard where I am able to see the beauty of the North, while doing the best I can with my cell phone.”