A Norman Wells man has expressed alarm after he was on the same flight from Yellowknife with about 20 passengers who came from Alberta without first self-isolating in the NWT in line with Covid health orders.

On Aug. 25, Lawrence Schiiler boarded a Canadian North flight that had brought passengers from Edmonton and made a stop in Yellowknife. He was making his way back to Norman Wells.

“All the people that just went through quarantine got on the plane with them. Like me, for instance. There was probably about 30 of us. We were all headed to our home communities,” he said.

A Norman Wells resident realized that he had been on the same flight as about 20 passengers when they went into a self-isolation section of Mike Zubko Airport in Inuvik, before his flight continued onto the Sahtu oil town.
NNSL file photo

Schiiler had just finished his two weeks of self-isolation in Yellowknife after a trip to Alberta earlier in August.

He realized when the plane made a stop in Inuvik – the route takes passengers to the Beaufort Delta before heading back south to Norman Wells – that the Edmonton passengers had came straight from Alberta without self-isolating in the NWT.

“They all went to one area and the people that were flying on to Norman Wells, we all went through the departure door area. All the people that were going into quarantine went over to the other side of the building that was blocked off, where they have to wait and then they go into their isolation. I’d say 20 people were lined up to go into isolation. It’s the same protocol (in Inuvik) as in Yellowknife.”

“There’s obviously a loophole there that needs to be addressed. Everyone is on the same plane. Whether you’re put in the front or the back it’s a closed space and we’re all breathing the same air,” Schiiler said. “Whether they know what’s going on or whether they don’t, it just needs to be addressed and taken care of before something actually happens. The NWT is doing one of the best jobs in the whole world at keeping Covid out of here. I don’t want to put the blame on anybody. I just want to make sure that this loophole hasn’t been overlooked.”

Canadian North

Canadian North provides information on travel requirements to the NWT for passengers before they board flights.

Its checklist for travel to the NWT states that travellers should be prepared to self-isolate after entering the territory.

“Canadian North’s role is to follow government regulations when checking-in and boarding passengers for flights entering NWT, Nunavut or Nunavik (Quebec) from the south. Only the passengers who meet the travel requirements are allowed to board,” said spokesperson Kevin Kablutsiak.

However, the NWT’s self-isolation rules aren’t the responsibility of the airline.

“The GNWT’s self-isolation requirements are applicable after passengers arriving into the territory have off-boarded our aircraft and are managed and enforced by the GNWT,” Kablutsiak said.

Office of the Chief Public Health Officer

Addressing whether the experience that Schiiler described represents a loophole in the Covid health regulations, the spokesperson for the Office of the Chief Public Health Officer said all the appropriate procedures were followed.

“In this scenario, all travellers are self-isolating for two weeks in Inuvik, which is a designated isolation community, if that is their final destination. They are going directly to their place of isolation and they are getting self-isolation plans approved. This follows the rules and is exactly how our public health orders anticipated this would work,” said Mike Westwick.

Additional protective measures in airports and on planes mandated by the federal government and airline companies, such as wearing non-medical masks, bolster the layers of protection of the health orders, he added.

“These additional precautions recognize that these are small places where a lot of folks mix. They also recognize that air travel is essential, especially in places like the NWT where there aren’t a lot of other options for travel for much of the year,” Westwick said. “Every indication is that implementation of orders relating to travel are going well.”

But Schiiler said people in Norman Wells view the application of the Covid airline rules as contradictory.

“It’s kind of a double standard,” he said. “A lot of people in town know about this happening here. A lot of other people have noticed the same thing. We’re only a town just under 800 people. The rules that we think should be in place are being ignored.”

Blair McBride

Blair McBride covers the Legislative Assembly, business and education. Before coming to Yellowknife he worked as a journalist in British Columbia, Thailand and Ontario. He studied journalism at Western...

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