A trip by a senior GNWT official to British Columbia during the holidays might have violated the Covid-19 health restrictions of that province.
Russell Neudorf, head of the Covid-19 Coordinating Secretariat, travelled to Kelowna, B.C. with his wife to be with their three university-aged children at a home the family owns there, according to a report from CBC North.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General said the province is unable to comment on any potential investigations into violations of Covid rules.
Neudorf did not respond to numerous requests for comment. But Premier Caroline Cochrane’s spokesperson Andrew Livingstone said in an email Tuesday that the GNWT had confirmed with British Columbia officials that Neudorf hadn’t run afoul of their restrictions.
“As we have said in the past, the GNWT is confident that senior officials who travelled during the holidays have followed public health orders,” Livingstone said. “We have confirmed with the B.C government that Mr. Neudorf complied with the requirements in the province.”
Under B.C’s health restrictions, an order by the provincial health officer suspends all social gatherings to reduce the spread of Covid-19. There have been more than 1,000 Covid-related deaths recorded in the province.
For private residences and vacation accommodations, “no person may host an event at a private residence or vacation accommodation where there is a person present who is not an occupant,” said a spokesperson for the Covid-19 Communications Unit with B.C’s Ministry of Health.
The exceptions to that rule include people entering the residence for the purpose of the occupant’s work, providing care to the occupant, visits by a minor child of an occupant with whom the the minor child doesn’t reside regularly, providing educational programming or tutoring to an occupant and other services that aren’t social in nature.
For occupants who live on their own, another exception is that they can have two other people present who are not occupants for social purposes if the other people are “individuals with whom the occupant regularly interacts.”
On Jan. 5, Cochrane urged that people not judge the senior officials who took trips outside the territory over the holidays.
In an email to NNSL Media, Cochrane said the GNWT can’t confirm or comment on the personal activities of its employees due to privacy concerns.
She added that no senior officials who travelled over the holidays required isolation centre public expenses to be incurred, and none of the GNWT’s pandemic response work was delayed.
Deputy ministers who travelled in December gave their ministers notice of their plans but the GNWT only approves employee requests for leave, not personal travel plans, Cochrane said.
“There is no requirement within the GNWT for any employee, including deputy ministers, to provide details of their travel during mandatory leave days. In the event the travel required use of accrued annual leave, a number of considerations would have been taken into account in arriving at a decision regarding southern travel, including operational requirements, public health restrictions and the personal situations and unusual circumstances involved in any individual’s case,” the premier said.
Cochrane explained that travel outside the territory isn’t restricted, but she was still discussing with deputy ministers her expectations over travel, which include that trips outside the NWT should be “carefully considered recognizing the recommendations that are in place and the risks that are associated with it. No personal travel other than medical or those with exceptional circumstances is encouraged; everyone must follow the required rules that are in place including isolation upon return of travel; and senior officials recognize the importance of leading by example.”
“Where residents have made the decision to travel, we have to understand that they have the right to travel and may have personal circumstance that may lead them to decisions different from our own. I am confident that employees who travel will follow the public health orders when they return in order to continue to protect the communities they serve,” she said.