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'These are the law': Yukoners can now be jailed for ignoring COVID-19 orders

The Yukon government is threatening to crack down on people who ignore public health orders that are aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus.

Officials say public health orders now enforceable by fines or jail time

'We ask Yukoners to be vigilant, with their own behaviour, and reminding their friends and family to abide by these new laws,' said Justice Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee. (CBC)

The Yukon government is threatening to crack down on people who ignore public health orders that are aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus.

In a news conference on Thursday, Community Services Minister John Streicker and Justice Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee said people can now be punished with fines or jail time, under the Civil Emergency Measures Act, if they ignore orders.

Those orders, some issued last month by Yukon's chief medical officer, include:

  • a requirement for people to immediately self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival in the territory,
  • a requirement for anybody arriving in Yukon to sign a declaration form, 
  • a ban on gatherings of more than 10 people,
  • closure of all bars and personal service establishments (such as hair salons and tattoo shops),
  • no dentistry services except in emergencies. 

"The message to Yukoners is clear — these are not suggestions, these are not guidelines, these are the law," said McPhee.

She said enforcement of the current public health order or future orders could be done by police officers, conservation officers, sheriffs, bylaw officers, or First Nations land officers. Jail terms could be up to six months, and fines up to $500.

McPhee said beefing up enforcement is a "first step." Next, she says, officials will set up a way for Yukoners to report any violations.

"We ask Yukoners to be vigilant, with their own behaviour, and reminding their friends and family to abide by these new laws."

The Yukon government declared a state of emergency under the Civil Emergency Measures Act six days ago. As of Wednesday, there were three active cases of COVID-19 in the territory, and three people recovered from the illness.

Streicker said Yukon is in a "good position" right now, and the new enforcement measures are meant to limit any community spread of the virus.

"Our medical system cannot afford widespread community transmission, and we must continue to fight hard against such a possibility," he said.

Declaration forms for people arriving in Yukon

Officials also announced on Thursday that anybody entering the territory, by land or air, will soon be met with an enforcement officer on entry.

Travellers will have to fill out a declaration form on arrival, giving their address and phone number or explaining where they are going in the territory if they are not residents. They must also sign a declaration that they are symptom-free. Streicker said those measure will make it easier for officials to enforce self-isolation orders. 

Non-Yukoners transiting through the territory — for example, to their homes in Alaska or the N.W.T. — can spend no more than 24 hours in Yukon. 

Anybody entering the territory, by land or air, will soon be met with an enforcement officer on entry, and be required to fill out a travel declaration form. (Murray Lundberg)

Asked why Yukon doesn't simply close its borders, Streicker suggested that wouldn't make sense.

"Well, we would like to get food in. We would like to get fuel in. We would like to get doctors in, medevacs. We would like to be able to make sure that our telecommunications continues to work," he said.

"What we're doing is to make sure that the way that people come in, and the services that come in, are things that are essential, critical, or for people who are going home." 

Residents of some communities just outside Yukon's boundaries — such as Atlin, Lower Post, and Fraser, B.C., are exempt from the mandatory self-isolation period as long as they have not travelled beyond their community or Yukon in the previous 14 days.

Also on Thursday, Yukon officials issued a list of what are considered essential services in the territory during the pandemic, with guidelines for the delivery of those services.

The list of essential services includes health care, food, telecommunications, energy and utilities, and mining, among many others.

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