I often house sit when in Yellowknife because I travel in and out of the territories frequently. When the crackdown hit in late March, like most house-sitters, I had to move into rental accommodations since everyone was told to stay put. The landlord from my last situation continued to have friends over despite the new restrictions, something that was very disturbing considering that another roommate worked with vulnerable populations. The house was ripe for a Covid outbreak.

I have since moved and as required, reported the situation to the 811 phone line and sent an email to the protectnwt@gov.nt.ca as the woman on the phone line suggested. I called two days later to find out whether the situation had been investigated as it had the potential to put others at risk. The 811 person assured me that something had probably happened since I had heard nothing.

On Saturday, almost two weeks after the written complaint went in, I received an email from the people at Protect NWT asking me for information so that they could start an investigation. I was dumbfounded. Some of the questions included, where did the incident happen? Who was the violator? Date and time of the violation? And were the violators part of the same household? – 10 questions, all of which had been answered in the original email. What that meant was that the first complaint had not been read at all.

All of this begs the question: how well is this system working and how, if at all, is it truly protecting residents of the NWT?

I have questioned the efficiency of this system in the past, but I would not break the rules even if I don’t agree with them. Since we are all encouraged to do our part, why isn’t the government who has assured us it will when a call is received, investigating it immediately? What if this query had come from an Elder in one of the communities or even here in Yellowknife, concerned about a nearby gathering that put her and her household at risk? What if, after calling, she assumes the matter is in good hands only to receive a phone call two weeks later asking for more information? How is this helping residents of the NWT feel safe especially by a government which took such a heavy-handed approach to prevent community spread?

Columnist Nancy Vail complained about a possible violation of public health orders using the 811 number provided by the GNWT, and was surprised it took days for them to respond. GNWT/YouTube screen capture

In a phone call to the 811 line asking why nothing had been done in the nearly two weeks since the original written complaint was filed, the operator told me the delay could be because have been overwhelmed by the many phone calls and emails they have been receiving. If that’s the case, why didn’t they hire more staff or deploy existing staff to man those lines and to do those investigations?

Surely they have stay-at-home staff, who could have been moved to do that job or they could have recruited more people at the height of the lockdown if they could not handle all the calls and emails. What good is it to encourage people to phone the hot line then not have the capacity to respond? This is what puts people at risk.

This government is rife with communication and operational breakdowns. Last week, an entire educational system was thrown into panic mode because no one bothered to tell any of its members that they could resume classes. Now, they’re letting complaints about Covid violations pile up unanswered for weeks.

Investigating a complaint two weeks after a concern goes in is not good enough.

Now that we are moving into gradual reopening, it might be too late to put more efficient and responsive measures in place, but there are huge lessons for the next time and there will be a next time. Hire enough staff. Do what you say you are going to do. If you can’t respond or are not able to, let people know so they do not assume that the situation is under control if it is not. If they can slap restrictions on the border overnight, why can’t the government have just as easily moved its staff to areas of critical need in a time of pandemic crisis?

That is the thing that puts people at risk and in the end, causes us to lose confidence in our government.

Kudos to the many people who did follow the rules. You are the ones that saved the day.

Addendum: A spokesperson with the Covid team has since responded, saying the report to the 811 line was investigated but did not find a threat to the community.

Pardon? What this means is that while it may have been a threat to those in the house, the community, somehow it was safe. The delayed response to the email was not addressed.


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