Dennis Marchiori can say “with confidence” that vehicles spotted with out-of-territory licence plates have gone through the proper procedure at the border before being allowed into the NWT.
Marchiori — a deputy chief public health officer with the GNWT — was speaking on July 29 at the Covid-19 checkpoint at the NWT/Alberta border on Highway 1.
People crossing into the NWT are asked by border agents for information and paperwork that might allow them to travel in the territory.
Without that proper information and paperwork, they are told they are in violation of public health orders and they cannot travel in the NWT without being subject to a fine.
“A lot of the out-of-territory plates that you do see sometimes can be supply chain, sometimes could be essential service workers and, in some cases, they’re new residents,” said Marchiori.
Plus, he noted that Driver and Motor Vehicle offices recently reopened and have a backlog of people who want licence plates changed.
“So it’s going to take a bit of time,” he said.
The 60th Parallel checkpoint deals with between 30-35 passenger vehicles a day.
Marchiori said that, each day, people in about a dozen of those vehicles are told they cannot travel in the NWT.
On July 29, the people refused permission to travel in the NWT included Victoria Burdett-Coutts and Cameron Knight, both from North Vancouver, B.C., who had hoped to drive to Yellowknife and back.
“We had four puppies transported from Grise Fiord to Yellowknife, and the SPCA has been watching them for us and are now transporting them to the border so that we can go back to North Vancouver,” said Burdett-Coutts.
The people moving the dogs from Yellowknife were also moving a horse, but the horse wouldn’t get on a trailer that morning.
“Where we’re frustrated is that the guy picking up the horse was granted an exemption for entry and we weren’t,” said Burdett-Coutts, noting she applied three months in advance to be able to drive in and out of the NWT with minimal contact with people.
She noted that a GNWT employee volunteered to drive the puppies to the border, but the other arrangements had already been made.
The situation was inconvenient, said Burdett-Coutts. “But I think, if the process felt fair and consistent, it’s reasonable because the pandemic is pretty significant in terms of its potential.”
Knight said it is important to keep communities safe, but agreed with Burdett-Coutts about the border rules.
“I just believe that there’s got to be some consistency with who you’re going to let through,” he said. “And I think we did everything that we were supposed to do in order to allow us to proceed through.”
The GNWT official who had volunteered to drive the puppies to the border was Marchiori himself.
Each day, 40-50 tractor-trailer units cross the border at the 60th Parallel on Highway 1.
On July 29, one of those trucks was driven by Edmonton’s Jay McGeein, who was hauling groceries north with TCM Transport.
McGeein, who noted he has made the trip once a week for three years, said the border checkpoint is not an inconvenience.
“It doesn’t slow us down that much,” he said. “They’re pretty fast.”
McGeein believes the checkpoint is a good thing if it will help stop the spread of the coronavirus.
“But for us, we have to come up no matter what,” he said. “So we don’t go into the stores or anything like that. They all unload us and we just leave again.”
On each trip, McGeein estimated he is in the NWT for about 20 hours by the time he crosses the border heading south, and in that time he just fuels up and even sleeps in his truck.
Marchiori said supply chain workers have 36 hours to come in and get everything done, and then leave.
“They’re supposed to self-isolate when they’re not working and wear a mask when they’re not in their vehicle,” he said.
‘Protect our residents’
Marchiori noted there are some supply chain workers living in the NWT — a couple in Hay River and a few in Yellowknife.
There is also an exempt category for harvesters exercising their traditional rights.
“We allow them to come in and out,” said Marchiori. “But there are some very strict rules on that, as well. We don’t want them in community boundaries. We don’t want them to go into grocery stores and gas stations. So we want them to be as careful as possible and, in most cases, we want to know what camp they’re going to or if they have a cabin on the land.”
NWT residents can also return to the territory if they have valid ID, and within 24 hours they have to file a 14-day self-isolation plan with Protect NWT.
“You can come back to the Northwest Territories and you’re allowed to travel within the Northwest Territories for the fact that you’re a resident,” said Marchiori. “So once they go in, if they’re from a smaller community, they would have to check into a self-isolation centre in one of the four hubs, which are Inuvik, Yellowknife, Hay River and Fort Smith.”
If they’re from a hub community, they could self-isolate in their home, but would have to self-isolate from other people in that home.
Marchiori agreed that there are rumours about what actually happens at the border under the public health orders issued because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“It doesn’t mean that the border is closed. The border is open. That’s part of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” he said. “But we are restricting the ability to travel within the Northwest Territories given the fact that we have a public health emergency in place in the Northwest Territories, and that is to protect our residents.”
A majority of the 10 workers at the 24-hours-a-day checkpoint at the 60th Parallel are from Hay River.
“I like helping people in the Northwest Territories,” said one of them, who spoke under the condition of not being identified.
The GNWT employee feels it is important work.
The border agent also noted that some people show up at the checkpoint without knowing anything about the NWT’s travel restrictions against Covid-19.