'A warming feeling': Alberta veterinarian granted travel exemption to practice in the N.W.T.
Over 1,000 people showed support through online petition
The government of the Northwest Territories has made an exemption on border restrictions for a veterinarian from Alberta to practice in the territory, after he received public and political support.
Dr. James Stickney said he found out in a letter from the territorial government on Wednesday that he will be able to come into the territory and treat animals without having to self-isolate.
"I was of course happy with the letter, with the results," he said. Stickney is based in High Level, Alta., but drives up in a trailer to Hay River and Fort Smith, N.W.T., at least once every six weeks to check in with hundreds of animals from across the territory.
Over 1,000 sign petition
For many in the southern part of the territory, going to High Level for veterinary care is faster and more convenient than driving at least six hours to Yellowknife.
In late March, the territory closed its borders for non-residents and non-essential services, with few exceptions. Veterinarians are not listed as an essential service under the territory's public health measures.
Dr. Stickney said he had applied for an exemption to the travel ban and was waiting to hear back. And then a week ago, a petition was started, referencing Stickney's situation, to deem veterinarians essential workers in the territory — as they are recognized federally, and in Stickney's home province of Alberta. Over 1,000 people signed on in support.
"It was just a warming feeling that I have a lot of clients that appreciate the service that I offer and they were fighting to have me come across, or show support, to have me up there," Stickney said.
Support from MLAs
But it wasn't only the patients who were lobbying for the exemptions, Stickney said he was in touch with several MLAs along with Fort Smith Mayor Lynn Napier-Buckley about getting across the border.
Stickney said Hay River MLA Rocky Simpson along with Thebacha MLA Frieda Martselos were "instrumental" in having his case put forward to the territorial government.
Simpson also showed his support on social media, saying that he and Martselos requested that the territory's chief public health officer provide an exemption for Stickney.
He added that although many are aware COVID-19 restrictions are imposed to protect people's health "there are gaps when it relates to the health of our pets."
Mike Westwick, a spokesperson for the territory's Department of Health and Social Services, confirmed in an email that Stickney was given the exemption earlier this week, but that veterinarians are still not classified as essential workers. It is unclear if other veterinarians might get this same type of exemption in the future.
As for Stickney, he has started booking clinics and Hay River and Fort Smith for mid-May and they are already "filling up quickly."
Written by Danielle d'Entremont with files from Anna Desmarais