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Premier's mixed messages on Covid border restrictions confuse MLAs

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A simple question in the legislative assembly on Tuesday that started off as a way of dispelling a swirl of rumours about border control only further stirred the rumours into a swirl of confusion.

Rocky Simpson, MLA for Hay River South, asked Health Minister Diane Thom if possible changes to border rules in phase two of the Emerging Wisely Covid recovery plan would "throw open" the border.

Thom, presaging the confusion that would result, said the GNWT realized its border restriction rules possibly contravened the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as it relates to mobility, and that the government had adjusted them.

The GNWT had previously stated on several occasions, including on its Covid information portal that travel into the territory by non-residents and by people who don't perform essential services is prohibited.

RELATED REPORTING: Early opening of patio dining, outdoor sport events possible, GNWT says

Thom then explained to Simpson that a new health order still prohibits "leisure travel" into the NWT and only permits people coming to move here, start a new job, studying in a post-secondary institution, or conducting a family reunification visit on compassionate grounds.


Yellowknife Centre MLA Julie Green questioned why the GNWT hadn't issued a clear explanation of its new travel policy. screengrab image


Several minutes later, Yellowknife Centre MLA Julie Green asked Premier Caroline Cochrane why she learned about changes to the public health order through media reports and not directly from the government.

Cochrane responded that both herself and Chief Public Health Officer (CPHO) Kami Kandola were caught off-guard by the media, but that Dr. Kandola had said new, undefined health orders would be released.

"We were looking at the order ... because we have a challenge about the mobility aspect. Cabinet was trying to talk about what that order meant," the premier said. 

Shortly afterwards, in response to a question from Kam Lake MLA Caitlin Cleveland, Cochrane said once the CPHO issues an order it's up to the GNWT to gather behind closed doors and talk about how it will implement things like border controls or isolation centres.

Cleveland pressed on, asking if visitors who cross the border have to pay for their self-isolation costs or if taxpayers pay.

"We will be talking about those issues as we talk to (Dr. Kandola)," Cochrane said. "At this point, we have been paying for the isolation units. As we open up phase two, those are conversations we still need to have."

Jackie Jacobson, MLA for Nunakput, criticizing the messaging as contradictory, tried to cut to the chase and asked the premier for a yes or no answer as to whether Canadian citizens are permitted to enter the NWT as long as they enter into 14 days of self-isolation.

"Both," said Cochrane. "Yes, they are allowed to travel across Canada. The charter right gives the mobility right to travel into any jurisdiction. No, once they hit the border and are across our border in the NWT, at that point our CPHO has the authority to restrict travel as she sees fit. Yes, they can come across the border. When they put one step in our border, it's our jurisdiction."

Jacobson then repeated Cleveland's question about who would pay for self-isolation costs for visitors, but the premier responded by saying only that in phase two more essential workers would be permitted to enter the NWT.

An official news announcement on phase two would be made on Friday, Cochrane said.

NNSL Media has inquired with the health department on details of the new travel rules.