The Government of the Northwest Territories is toughening its response to people disobeying the public orders during the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Wednesday, the GNWT announced it was putting together a taskforce responsible for enforcing the orders.
According to Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Kami Kandola, the taskforce is a “direct response to concerns raised through Indigenous governments and local governments.”
She added, “Our response was to investigate complaints when they are flagged,” but now the territorial government needs “more boots on the ground.”
Monitoring and response
Conrad Baetz is an assistant deputy minister with the Department of Lands and is now also acting as the Deputy Chief Public Health Officer.
Baetz will be in charge of the new taskforce.
He told reporters following the announcement that officers will be investigating complaints made to firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-833-378-8297.
Since March 21, all returning NWT residents are required to submit a self-isolation plan and stay in one of the regional centres (Yellowknife, Hay River, Fort Smith or Inuvik) for 14 days.
Baetz explained there is currently a follow-up with returning residents to ensure they submit their plan and that they are complying. Taskforce officers will be monitoring residents through these plans.
If the officers find someone in contravention of the public health orders, Baetz said the response can range from a “stern talking to” to verbal and written warnings, to apprehension.
While this is left up to the responding officer, Baetz said apprehension is “one of the very last tools we have in our toolbox,” but may be necessary if there is a larger public health threat as a result of someone disobeying the orders.
Those disobeying the public health orders face a fine of up to $10,000 and six months in jail.
According to Dr. Kandola, her office has received 180 complaints so far. The majority, 155, have been closed with minor action, 16 were closed due to a lack of information or unable to follow up, and nine are ongoing.
“The biggest change the people of the territory will notice is our expanded presence,” said Dr. Kandola.
The taskforce will be made up of about 30 staff total, with two to three enforcement officers in each regional centre.
The officers will come from the Departments of Lands, Environment and Natural Resources, Infrastructure, and Health and Social Services.
According to Baetz the newly-appointed officers will have “compliance and enforcement experience and skills that come from their home position.”
In addition to the mandatory self-isolation, Dr. Kandola said residents can expect another order banning all mass gatherings coming within the next week.
Once that order comes, it will also carry the possible penalties outlined above.
Dr. Kandola has not yet defined how many people make up a mass gathering. That information is likely to be part of the upcoming order.