North

Territory kicks out Gwich'in man who tried to move home to Inuvik during pandemic

A man who planned to move back to his hometown of Inuvik, N.W.T., has been sent back to Edmonton by the territorial government amid COVID-19 restrictions.

Steven Hagen boarded a flight back to Alberta Saturday afternoon

Steven Hagen was born in Inuvik and grew up there and in Yellowknife. He moved away to Alberta in 2007 and he has spent the last two years working in British Columbia. (Submitted by Steven Hagen)

A man who planned to move back to his hometown of Inuvik, N.W.T., after losing his job due to the pandemic has been sent back to Edmonton by the territorial government amid COVID-19 restrictions.

Steven Hagen, who is Gwich'in, was born in Inuvik and grew up there and in Yellowknife. He moved to Alberta in 2007 and has spent the last two years working in British Columbia.

Hagen lost his job down South and says his roommate had to move out because he also lost his job, which resulted in Hagen also having to leave the apartment. But he said he had been thinking of moving back since December.

"It's a matter of getting through this little problem here, and just trying to get on with my life in my home where I grew up," Hagen said. "And during times like these is when people should be getting back to their homes and back to their families and friends, and trying to help each other out."

If you [are] from the North ... lose your job, lose your apartment. You have to come home to family.- Steven Hagen

"I'd been in talks with some people up here for a couple of months and just was trying to establish some type of work position up here because I wanted to move back North," said Hagen.

Hagen says he booked his initial flight home to Inuvik in early March before the physical distancing rules were in place across Canada.

The territory shut its borders down to non-essential workers and non-residents at the end of March, also requiring all people coming into the territory to self-isolate and come up with a government-approved self-isolation plan. 

Hagen says he wasn't aware of the travel rules until he arrived in Edmonton on April 17. He ended up delaying his flight until April 28 "so I could get my paperwork done as required."

Hagen said he submitted his self-isolation plan and spoke to the coordinator at the Mackenzie Hotel in Inuvik, pictured above, where he was planning on self-isolating. Recently people self-isolating at the hotel got to take part in a sign making competition from their hotel rooms. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC)

Hagen says he submitted his self-isolation plan and spoke to the coordinator at the Mackenzie Hotel in Inuvik, where he was planning on self-isolating to reduce any potential risk to family and friends, and to make sure that he was following the rules.

Hagen says he got an email from the government confirming his plan. 

He says the trip from Edmonton to Inuvik went smoothly. But on Friday evening, he says he got a letter informing him he had to fly back to Edmonton on Saturday. He boarded a flight back to Alberta Saturday afternoon.

'They didn't know what to do with me'

Hagen says he thought he was in the clear after arriving in Inuvik last month, but in retrospect, things haven't been completely smooth since arriving in town.

"Right when I landed, they didn't know what to do with me. So there [were] concerns right off the bat," said Hagen.

Hagen says he realizes now that there may have been some oversights on his part too.

He says his passport and birth certificate both say Inuvik, but he put his mom's place in Kelowna, B.C., as his residence. He also says he had possible work opportunities in Inuvik, but nothing was written in stone.

"It's all new to everybody so there's no pointing fingers at anyone, but it seemed like there were a lot of people that didn't quite understand the correct process to go through things, since things are changing daily."

COVID-19 moving restrictions

Mike Westwick, a spokesperson for the government of the Northwest Territories, wrote in an email that he can't comment on Hagen's situation but said people are allowed to move to the territory as long as they meet a set of criteria.

He wrote that people without current residency in the N.W.T. have to prove they'll be living in the territory at least five months. They can do that by showing two of the following documents: a signed mortgage, a rental or lease agreement, a rent receipt, a letter from a private or government landlord, or proof of employment or a job offer.

"If these requirements are not met, a person cannot remain in the N.W.T., and until the time they leave, they are ordered to be isolated. Thankfully, we have not had an abundance of cases which have come to this," wrote Westwick.

'You have to come home to family'

Hagen was working in project management for a resort in B.C. before he lost his job due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

He says he has severe asthma and has been very careful in his physical distancing since he fears if he got COVID-19, it could be a life-or-death situation.

"I could've went and stayed with my mother, but I just thought it would just be better to get on the road," said Hagen. "Get moving up here in case things get worse with more restrictions.

"I actually sped the process up instead of waiting for things to get worse, I thought I'd get up here sooner."

Hagen says he has tried reaching out to Inuvik MLAs. CBC News confirmed he reached out to at least Diane Thom, the territory's health minister and MLA for Inuvik Boot Lake.

An email from Thom to Hagen dated April 29 says Robert Collinson, Thom's ministerial advisor, would "assist in responding." It's not clear if any action was taken after that.

Inuvik Twin Lakes MLA Lesa Semmler says although she hadn't heard about Hagen's case by Friday afternoon, she says people returning to the N.W.T. need to have a plan in place that's approved by the territory before returning home.

Inuvik MLA Lesa Semmler says anyone looking to move to the North during the COVID-19 pandemic needs to make sure their self-isolation plan is complete before flying North. She says the territory is trying to prevent people from "running up here because there are no [active] cases." (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

"If people are losing jobs, we need to look at all the cases individually," said Semmler. "Have a solid plan before you jump on the plane and return North."

She says the territory is trying to prevent people from "running up here because there are no [active] cases."

Hagen understands the N.W.T.'s regulations, but feels there should be exceptions for those who are returning to their hometowns.

"They should not be able to restrict you if you [are] from the North and you've been out in another province working, lose your job, lose your apartment. You have to come home to family," said Hagen.

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