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How many have paid N.W.T. COVID-19-related fines? New secretariat isn't keeping track

The N.W.T. government’s COVID Secretariat is not tracking how many of its tickets actually result in fines being paid, and it won't say whether an MLA who admitted to breaking the rules has been ticketed.

N.W.T. COVID Secretariat won't say whether an MLA who admitted to breaking rules has been fined

The N.W.T. Legislative Assembly in Yellowknife. The territorial government's COVID Secretariat is expected to cost just under $90 million over two and a half years. Enforcement of Covid-19 health orders is one of the secretariat's roles, but it does not track how many of its tickets are successfully prosecuted. (Sara Minogue/CBC)

The N.W.T. government's COVID Secretariat is not tracking how many of its tickets actually result in fines being paid.

Health officers have issued more than 50 tickets for a variety of infractions, including not following self-isolation plans and breaking rules limiting the size of gatherings. All but three of the tickets carry the same hefty fine of $1,725. 

The two other tickets with fines of $500 were issued to people who allegedly tried to mislead health officers. The remaining ticket was issued to a Yellowknife bar for allegedly allowing people to use its dance floor in violation of a COVID-19 order prohibiting it. The latter charge carries a fine of $5,175 and is still before the courts.

CBC News asked the COVID Secretariat how much has been collected in fines associated with those tickets. The secretariat does not track that information, according to an emailed response to questions. The fines are collected by the courts and put into the government's general revenue fund.

N.W.T. Premier Caroline Cochrane heads up the Covid-19 secretariat. She was not available for an interview about why the secretariat is not keeping track of how many Covid-19 fines are being paid. (Walter Strong/CBC)

CBC News twice requested an interview with premier Caroline Cochrane, who heads up the COVID Secretariat, to find out how it gauges the effectiveness of its enforcement if it does not keep track of how many tickets result in convictions and paid fines. The premier was not available.

"The secretariat has processes and procedures in place that ensures they are doing their job appropriately and effectively," said an official with the press secretary's office.

Won't confirm if MLA was fined

It's unclear if a ticket has been issued in one of the highest profile cases.

Tu Nedhé - Wiilideh MLA Steve Norn admitted he broke the mandatory 14-day self-isolation period a day early. Norn made the admission in a brief interview with CBC News two weeks after Cabin Radio first reported that staff at the legislature had been advised he had been there the day before his isolation period ended.

MLA Steve Norn admitted to breaking his mandatory isolation period early. It is unclear whether he has been fined for that violation. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

Norn did not respond to calls and messages asking if he has been fined. The secretariat does not identify people who have been ticketed, though the names of those who do not pay fines right away are listed on the publicly available territorial court docket. Norn's name has not appeared there.

Norn tested positive for the virus after returning from a trip to Alberta. He did not show any symptoms at the time. He was linked to a small cluster of cases in Yellowknife.

Referring to those cases at the time, Premier Cochrane said, "I want to be clear, there are consequences when people don't follow [the rules]."

In another interview on the same topic Cochrane later said, "Politicians are not allowed to break the law."

The COVID Secretariat said it does not identify anyone who is being investigated.

"While we understand that there is a public interest in the details of any potential investigation conducted by the COVID Secretariat Compliance and Enforcement section, we are not able to comment on or confirm or deny the details of any investigation, or whether any potential investigation has been actioned," the email response reads.

On May 14, the standing committee on accountability and oversight met and voted to remove Norn as chair. MLAs also filed a complaint about him to the integrity commissioner.

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