It is curious which lines seem to stick with us from the movies.

There are many, but we will mention only a few.

“Nothing is written.” – Lawrence of Arabia.

“Lollygaggers.” – Bull Durham.

“No papers?” – The Hunt for Red October.

And it is that last quote that has been coming to mind as we have watched the GNWT establish and then change travel restrictions for the territory as a way to combat Covid-19.

For those of you who have not watched The Hunt for Red October, it’s a 1990 movie about the officers of a Soviet nuclear submarine trying to defect to the United States, along with the sub.

In one scene, an officer (Sam Neill, who would later star in Jurassic Park) tells the captain (played by Sean Connery) about his plans for America. They include getting married, buying a pickup truck, living in Montana and driving from state to state.

However, the last goal has the officer a bit worried, so he asks the captain if he would be allowed to drive from state to state, and he is told that he would indeed be free to travel.

“No papers?” the officer asks incredulously.

“No papers. State to state,” replies the captain, in the best Russian non-accent that Connery could muster.

Freedom to travel is one of the basics of a free society, as opposed to a controlled society like the Soviet Union.

The idea that we would need ‘papers’ to travel from state to state – or province to province or territory in Canada – is abhorrent to people in a free society.

Yet, that’s what has faced people coming to or returning to the NWT since late March – paperwork that requires government approval.

And as of June 12, they include people who the territorial government does not really want in the NWT, but can’t keep out because of the mobility rights in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

We have previously expressed our misgivings about the travel restrictions, but were willing to temporarily accept them in the name of public health.

“The free flow of people is one of the things that makes Canada a free country, and limiting that freedom of movement is not something to be done lightly,” we wrote in an April 4 editorial.

So we are not disappointed the GNWT has adjusted its travel restrictions to allow Canadians to enter the NWT based on the Charter of Rights. In fact, mobility is right up there with other untouchable rights, like the right to vote.

However, once in the NWT, people who do not have exempt status will be asked to voluntarily leave and will be fined each day they decide to stay.

That seems like six of one and half a dozen of the other – in that there are still limitations on mobility no matter how you cut it. But the GNWT has apparently run it past their lawyers and they believe that would be acceptable under the Charter of Rights.

We’re not so sure about that, but we will take the GNWT at its word that the new process is legal. And we hope the revised restrictions can respect mobility rights, even if they have become expensive in the NWT, while keeping Northerners safe.

However, we still can’t stop thinking about The Hunt for Red October, and the fact that people must have their ‘papers’ in order to enter the NWT.

Paul Bickford

Paul Bickford is the reporter for Hay River Hub.

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