Communities establishing their own check stops to keep COVID-19 out are making the situation more complicated and Premier Caroline Cochrane says she will speak with individual mayors to bring them down.
Cochrane made the comments during a press conference April 7.
“We cannot make decisions based off of fear. We need to make decisions based on best practices,” she said. “Please, don’t put up blockades. Don’t do the check stops. There’s many more things you can be doing in your communities to assist us.
“I’m worried about the potential for violence if people are out there on their own that do not have the authority to be there. A check point at the beginning of your community is not going to prevent COVID-19. The thing that will prevent COVID-19 from taking over your communities will be listening to the chief public health officer and keeping your distance.
“That is the answer, it is not about violence and it is not about check points.”
The Hamlet of Tuktoyaktuk council decided to set up a check stop following an emergency meeting April 6.
Having just self-appointed herself as Minister of Municipal and Community Affairs for a more centralized approach, Cochrane said she was going to reach out to municipal leaders with hopes of bringing down the check stops diplomatically, noting force-ably removing barricades presents its own set of human rights challenges.
“I don’t believe that walking in and trying to dismantle is going to be a great answer,” she said. “We’ve seen barricades for other issues across Canada. We need to look at more constructive ways we can work together, government to government, to protect their communities and make their people feel safe.”
However, because of the municipal declaration of emergency, territorial government directives take precedence over municipal decisions, so Cochrane noted if she can’t convince local leaders to remove the barricades, she has other options she could potentially explore.
Cochrane also stood adamant on not informing municipal leaders of small communities, pointing out not even she is informed which small communities the virus has been located in.
“When it comes to medical concerns, we have to respect privacy. That is a legal obligation,” she said. “As premier, the top position within the government of the Northwest Territories, I do not have access to the information on who has COVID-19 and in what community, other than what the chief public health officer relates to the public.
“My worry is that if we started releasing names and places, would everybody come in to be reported?”
She added that now the basic framework of the government’s response has been set out, she was moving towards strengthening enforcement of public health orders and following up on complaints.
An announcement of new measures is expected at a press conference later in the week.
“You will be seeing potentially new orders come out but definitely a definition of what the enforcement will be looking like,” she said. “We are serious. We need you to be serious. We need you to take this seriously. The only way we’re going to protect life in the NWT is by every one of us working hard to obey the chief public health officer orders.
“We always know there are always outliers. We will not accept outliers. This is a life or death situation — we will do what it takes to protect our residents.”