We have to admit that we didn’t quite know what to make of the latest order from Dr. Kami Kandola, the NWT’s chief public health officer.

On April 10, Kandola announced that – effective April 11 – all indoor gatherings are banned, which means no visitors are legally permitted inside any home, aside from a few exceptions like homecare workers or tradespeople for home repairs.

All indoor activities like house parties, funerals, meetings, feasts, church services and team sports are also banned.

Gatherings of up to 10 people – with appropriate social distancing – will be allowed only outdoors.

On the one hand, the new order is designed to slow the spread of Covid-19, and no one is going to argue against reasonable measures to slow the spread on that disease, especially to prevent idiotic house parties in this time of crisis.

On the other hand, the new order is the furthest the GNWT has yet gone to limit people’s civil liberties in the fight against Covid-19.

We knew it was going to happen.

It’s amazing how fragile our civil liberties really are, especially in times of crisis when our rights are the most vulnerable and most in need of defending.

In the face of the Covid-19 pandemic – a dangerous situation without doubt – our freedoms are being curtailed one after another.

The freedom to leave the house, to congregate in crowds, to travel, to get an education, to go to a restaurant and many more have all taken hits. And now not being able to welcome a friend in your own home.

Previously, most of the restrictions were advice and recommendations, but the new order has the force of law and threatens punishment for those who do not comply.

We have to admit we were a bit disturbed when we first heard Kandola announce the latest restrictions, especially the ban on visitors to homes. (The working title of this editorial was ‘Give me liberty or give me Covid-19’, which we think may have been approved by Patrick Henry.)

After Kandola’s announcement, we gave ourselves some time to reflect, and calmed down a bit. We also reconsidered the headline after realizing some people might find that wording amusing if this writer happens to get Covid-19 and die, and we wouldn’t want that.

Our concern for civil liberties still exists, nevertheless.

That concern was certainly not lessened when we read last week the Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had brought up the idea of the federal Emergencies Act with the premiers.

Thankfully, the premiers unanimously rejected that idea, and deprived Trudeau of what could have been his very own just-watch-me moment.

Our prime minister’s father – Pierre Trudeau – was asked in 1970 how far he would go to fight some Che Guevara-wannabe terrorists in Quebec during the October Crisis, and he famously replied, “Just watch me.”

That ended up being the invocation of the War Measures Act – the legislative equivalent of using a nuclear bomb against a mosquito. You might be interested to know that the War Measures Act was replaced in 1988 by the Emergencies Act.

The point is that, just because government has seemingly unlimited powers in an emergency, it doesn’t mean that they should be used.

After due consideration, we will reluctantly accept that some temporary limitations on civil liberties are warranted in the fight against Covid-19.

But not much more.

Paul Bickford

Paul Bickford is the reporter for Hay River Hub.

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