Update to this story: On Friday morning, Mike Harrison called from Hay River after making it through the border checkpoint. He said he was intending to drive on to his cabin residence at Lindburg Landing – about a 470-kilometre drive – without going through quarantine.
“The brunt of the story is I am breaking the law somewhat except … they will have a hard time making those charges stick and it would be funny if it goes to the courts,” he said.
“In all practical sense I am violating the legislation and so I’m making that independent decision and I’m arguing that if it goes to litigation, I will plead not guilty and my defense will be that they didn’t assess me individually based on my particular situation. Instead they lumped me into a policy that services people living in communities and they’re putting me at risk.”
The Chief Public Health Officer responded with a statement on Saturday morning denouncing Harrison’s decision.
“Pike” Mike Harrison, star of reality television show Ice Lake Rebels, is learning how uncompromising the territorial government is when it comes to its self-isolation directives aimed at returning NWT residents.
Harrison is a homesteader and has a territorial land-lease in a cabin at the very small settlement of Lindberg Landing in the southern Dehcho region near Blackstone Territorial Park, about 150 km from the B.C. border on Highway 7.
The community is about 300 km from Fort Nelson, B.C. across the NWT border – a normal access point for Harrison when he is trying to get back home. According to Google Maps, this is roughly a four hour and 21 minute road trip.
Harrison has spent the last several weeks travelling on Vancouver Island and Salt Spring Island on the west coast of B.C.
“When I saw Premier Caroline Cochrane declaring a public health emergency and closing the borders, I was making arrangements to come home back to my residence ” he said. “So I decided to drive.”
At the time of Cochrane’s announcement, Harrison said he was staying in isolation at St. Mary’s Resort on Salt Spring Island and was practising social distancing on his own – staying out of restaurants and avoiding eating out, while confining himself to his own private suite.
On March 24, travelling in his 2002 Fort Escape, he jumped on a ferry and drove to Quesnel before arriving in Fort Nelson at about 9 p.m. It was there at his hotel that he found out he could not move across the border to his remote cabin to self-isolate. The border crossing at Highway 7 was closed at 5 p.m.
“There were no notices or anything and boom I can’t drive across the border back to my residence where I can be isolated. My remote residence.”
Dr. Kami Kandola, chief public medical officer for the Northwest Territories said on March 21 that all NWT residents returning to the territory have to self-isolate for 14 days and provide information as to where they have been as well as names and addresses. The Highway 7 order came a few days later.
The GNWT COVID-19 website explicitly states that:
“Anyone arriving in the NWT must self-isolate and stay at home for 14 days in Yellowknife, Inuvik, Hay River or Fort Smith only. No NWT resident is allowed to self-isolate in a small community or other regional centre other than the four listed communities if they have returned from outside the NWT.
“This is a measure to avoid overwhelming health centres in small remote communities, and ensure those exposed to COVID-19 are close a well-equipped hospital care.”
Because Harrison was still in Fort Nelson when the deadline passed, he was in effect put in what he calls a ‘COVID predicament’ and expected to make a long, 12-hour road trip from to Fort St. John and then into Alberta and up north toward Highway 1 and Hay River. It is the closest of the four options for self-isolation which are even further away.
Harrison, who is 60-years-old, said having to make the trip would likely mean being in contact with other people due to the need to make stops for food and fuel.
“I have to go into quarantine at Hay River and in order to get to that quarantine I have been put at risk by this exceptional road trip I have to make,” he said in frustration.
“I can prove that what (the GNWT is) asking me to do is increasing the chance of me transmitting it or me getting it. Instead of me just getting to the border, having someone say ‘this guy is a resident, he is not going into a community, let him go to his spot where he is isolated.'”
Harrison said he reached out to the office of Shane Thompson, his MLA, for assistance but wasn’t able to talk to him the morning of March 25.
“The next step for me? What would be great is that I would like to have a campaign that says ‘Pike Mike – Let him into Highway 7,'” he said about what he would do next. “I need to get my people on this and make a dozen phone calls, send a million emails, leap frog.
“It is stupid to make Pike Mike go and quarantine over here when you should just put him in his cabin down there. So maybe someone could meet me at the border and let me in.”
Harrison was one of several Northerners to appear in the reality television show Ice Lake Rebels, which depicted houseboat life in the capital on Yellowknife Bay. It aired for two seasons on Animal Planet from 2014 to 2016.
A request for comment on this story was submitted to MLA Thompson on March 25.