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N.W.T. ends state of emergency for 1st time during COVID-19 pandemic

The Northwest Territories government has decided it will no longer extend its state of emergency for the first time since COVID-19 emergency measures were enacted in the territory.

Meanwhile N.W.T.'s public health emergency is extended again for 8th time

Health Minister Diane Thom has extended the territory's public health emergency, according to a news release Tuesday. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

The Northwest Territories government has decided it will no longer extend its state of emergency for the first time since COVID-19 emergency measures were enacted in the territory.

The territory has been under a state of emergency — one of its two emergency public health measures — due to the pandemic since March. The state of emergency gave the government extraordinary powers, including the power to enter premises without a warrant; procure food, fuel, and medical supplies; and fix prices on essential goods.

"The public was wonderful, the stores, the supply chains … they were all wonderful and we never had to enact it or utilize it," Premier Caroline Cochrane said Tuesday.

"So if we're not utilizing it, it makes sense now that we're in phase two that we don't carry that forward any longer."

The government added that it will continue to review the situation, and if needed — like if there's a second wave of COVID-19 and evidence of community spread — it's prepared to bring back the state of emergency, but would be cautious about doing so.

The territory has been free of known COVID-19 cases for roughly three months but Cochrane said it took this long to lift the state of emergency because "often best decisions aren't made quickly."

"I know that the public is saying 'we have no cases, we haven't had any cases', but watch the news," she said, noting a recent spike in COVID-19 cases in some U.S. states. 

"We have to be very careful. It's still going on huge in the southern jurisdictions and we don't have the healthcare capacity to deal with a huge outbreak."

Cochrane acknowledged concerns from people who may feel their civil liberties are being limited by the state of emergency. That's why with the last order, she says, the government allowed people to come to the territory if they were working, looking for work, reuniting with family or obtained a special government exemption.

Public health emergency extended

Meanwhile, Health Minister Diane Thom has extended the territory's public health emergency on the recommendation of the chief public health officer, according to a news release.

The public health emergency gives the Office of the Chief Public Health Officer the ability to create and enforce public health orders.

The release states that to this point, the territory has been "successful at managing the risk of COVID-19 using the tools available under the Public Health Act," and so it has not had to draw on resources under the Emergency Management Act that a state of emergency would allow for.

Back in June, the territorial government extended both of its territory-wide emergency declarations for the seventh time. Both were set to expire on Wednesday.

Government spokesperson Mike Westwick said the public health emergency will expire on July 21.

The news release also reminded residents that everyone entering the N.W.T. is still required to self-isolate for 14 days in Yellowknife, Inuvik, Hay River or Fort Smith, "with few exceptions."

"The [N.W.T. government] will continue to review its actions and arrangements for responding to the pandemic to ensure they remain effective and are aligned with the current circumstances," the release states.

With files from Sidney Cohen

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