The Town of Hay River has hired a temporary bylaw officer, with one of his main tasks to watch for violations of the GNWT’s enforcement orders to combat Covid-19.
“I think the biggest focus is Covid,” said Mayor Kandis Jameson on April 9.
The new bylaw officer is Earle Dumas, the previous director of projects and planning with the town, who is on a month-to-month contract with the municipality.
The mayor is hoping that the NWT Compliance and Enforcement Taskforce, announced on April 8 by the territorial government, will improve the enforcement situation in Hay River.
There has been considerable criticism by Hay River town council about what it sees as a lack of enforcement, especially for people from other communities who are self-isolating in the town for 14 days after travelling back to the NWT.
At an April 6 online meeting of council, Jameson noted that some people who are supposed to be in self-isolation are ignoring the order of the chief public health officer.
“There’s definitely an issue out there and we know that the high-risk ones are the ones that travelled outside of the Northwest Territories,” she said.
Jameson said the new bylaw officer will not enforce GNWT orders, but rather provide information.
“We don’t want him to be enforcing,” she said. “We want him to support enforcement to ensure that people’s concerns are heard.”
The NWT Compliance and Enforcement Taskforce has the mandate to strengthen the territory’s public health enforcement actions.
Dr. Kami Kandola, the NWT’s chief public health officer, has brought in Conrad Baetz, who has decades of experience in compliance and enforcement programs in the NWT, as her enforcement strategic lead. Baetz has been deputized as a deputy chief public health officer.
The taskforce’s first acts will be assigning officers from across government to enforce public health orders and investigate non-compliance across all 33 communities, and ramping up collaboration with other organizations across the territory.
“Changing behavior is central to responding to a pandemic,” said Kandola in a news release. “Education and awareness is one component, but when there’s a refusal to change behavior, we must use enforcement. Mr. Baetz and his team will lead a co-ordinated effort to put force behind our orders when necessary across this territory.”
Departments participating in the initiative include Environment and Natural Resources, Infrastructure, Lands, and Health and Social Services. The RCMP and bylaw officers will play support roles where necessary.
Individuals who contravene any orders of the chief public health officer, the Public Health Act or its regulations may be subject to fines of up to $10,000 or imprisonment for up to six months for a first offence.
Jameson said the new taskforce “absolutely” answers some of the concerns of Hay River.
“There was no teeth. There really wasn’t,” she said of the previous situation, noting that the one environmental health officer for the South Slave was responsible for enforcing the health orders related to Covid-19, including for people self-isolating in Hay River.
“I mean it really was impossible, let’s be honest,” the mayor said. “So this is very good. It answers a lot of our concerns.”
At the April 6 council meeting, Judy Goucher, the senior administrative officer with the town, said the new bylaw officer will be the eyes and ears in support of the Covid-19 effort.
That could include documenting what businesses are open and where there are gatherings of people, Goucher noted. “We certainly can feed information to the enforcement agencies, accurate information, and make sure, if there’s more activity, there’s more eyes out there in the community making sure that people are doing things safely and following the orders that are in place.”