Nunatsiaq News
NEWS: Nunavut June 08, 2018 - 7:45 am

Nunavut’s medical travel policy offers little support for families with infants: mom

“It’s my right to breastfeed my child"

The Arsenault family in Baker Lake. Shannon Arsenault said a GN medical travel policy that prevents client escorts from travelling with their infant is discriminatory—particularly against breastfeeding mothers and their babies. (HANDOUT PHOTO)
The Arsenault family in Baker Lake. Shannon Arsenault said a GN medical travel policy that prevents client escorts from travelling with their infant is discriminatory—particularly against breastfeeding mothers and their babies. (HANDOUT PHOTO)

A Nunavut mother says the territory’s medical escort policy can discriminate against parents of infant children and particularly breastfeeding mothers.

The Government of Nunavut’s medical travel policy maintains that client escorts cannot bring an infant with them on medical travel.

This recently posed a major hurdle to the Arsenault family in Baker Lake.

When Shannon Arsenault booked a medical appointment for her four-year-son, scheduled for June 11 in Winnipeg, she planned to bring along her four-month-old daughter on the trip, who is breastfed.

Arsenault said her GN-employed husband couldn’t take time off work to escort their son himself.

The mother of four also said her son’s appointment was to deal with a sensitive and private health care issue that she felt required a parent to be present.

But during the booking process, Arsenault discovered the policy prevented her from bringing her baby daughter along, even though infants travel on a parent’s lap and don’t require a separate airfare.

Arsenault appealed the policy twice over the last two weeks, and was denied both times. The department suggested she either pay her own way or request a second escort, but noted that it was unlikely to be approved.

“I made it very clear in both of my calls that the reason I’m bringing [my infant daughter] is to breastfeed,” she said.

“We don’t have anyone else to send with our son, nor do we think it’s appropriate to send someone else.”

On Wednesday, June 6, Arsenault finally decided to write a post about the issue on Facebook, while she contacted media in the territory.

The following day, June 7, she received a call from the Department of Health saying her request had been approved.

Arsenault said she’s thankful she’ll be able to make the appointment, but she still hopes to address the policy.

Over a 24-hour period, she said she received 12 messages from women across Nunavut who told her they’d faced the same problem: they had also been unable to act as a medical escort and bring their breastfed infant along.

“The biggest issue here is that women across Nunavut are being forced to stop breastfeeding,” she said.

“It’s my right to breastfeed and my right to accompany my child to this appointment.”

Nunavut’s current medical travel policy was most recently reviewed in 2012 and updated in 2013.

The department was not explicit in explaining the reasons behind its no infant policy, but a statement suggested that costs and potential distraction to the parent could be issues.

The Department of Health said each medical travel request and appeal is reviewed on a case by case basis.

“As client escort travel is not mandatory, the department makes every effort to select escorts that meet the criteria outlined in the medical travel policy but when necessary exceptions can be granted,” a department spokesperson said in a June 7 email to Nunatsiaq News.

The department said it does in fact make efforts to support breastfeeding mothers by allowing “for breastfeeding mothers who are travelling for their own medical appointments to bring their infants as long as childcare is arranged and the mother’s appointment will not interfere with the well-being of her infant.”

Email this story to a friend... Print this page... Bookmark and Share Comment on this story...

(24) Comments:

#1. Posted by Shannon Arsenault on June 08, 2018

Just to clarify. Rob could not take the time off at work because it is a busy time. Not that he was denied the time off. He has an amazing boss. Point is I had the time. Also we have amazing friends here but you shouldn’t have to ask your friends to take your children to a fly out apt. Very thankful for our friends here, Robs work, and value their support.

#2. Posted by Patient Relations? on June 08, 2018

Hi Shannon,
Did you try using the patient relations office?
It was a big help to me last year when I had the same issue. She (Janet Brewster) helped me get the approval to fly with my baby who was breastfeeding at the time.
I hihgly recommend calling her if you need help!

#3. Posted by Just Aaking on June 08, 2018

“It’s my right to breastfeed and my right to accompany my child to this appointment.”

Sometimes two rights don’t make a wrong.

We must all make choices in life and sometimes we can’t have it all. There may be practical reasons why the Department of Health wants to cut down on the number of infants travelling with escorting parents. I for one cannot imagine that additional, unnecessary travel is good for infants.

Did you know that only one infant is allowed per aircraft row due to Transport Canada requirements for oxygen masks?

If Ms. Arsenault was not breastfeeding, and she left her baby at home, who would be looking after it, since her husband could not take time off work?

Just asking.

#4. Posted by Northern Guy on June 08, 2018

It is my understanding that infants are allowed to travel on the lap of their mother or father and therefore don’t require a seat or anyone’s permission to accompany a parent on travel regardless of who is footing the bill. It is not the business of GN Health to say that an infant cannot travel with her mother on a medical trip.

#5. Posted by Northerner on June 08, 2018

To comment number 3, there are more than one infant allowed on aircrafts at a time. Have you ever flown anywhere in the Kivalliq, it’s rare to be on a flight with no infants.

#6. Posted by Put the people first on June 08, 2018

Maybe the Premier’s wife can be the 2nd escort. There seems to be a pot of money set aside for her unnecessary travel to places like the Northern Lights conference. Don’t get me started on the $8000 limo service. A parent should not have to choose between the health and well being of one child over another.

#7. Posted by This is wrong on June 08, 2018

This has been happening far too often and for too many years and is not right. This mother should not be put in this position.You have the government doing everything it can to promote and support breastfeeding and then this! Shame on the Dept of Health

#8. Posted by lol on June 08, 2018

#3 give your head a shake

#9. Posted by Breastfeeding accommodation on June 08, 2018

Minister Peterson announced a breastfeeding accommodation policy in the last Assembly. The policy did not get the attention it deserved. Situations like this is why we need policies. Because government staff can’t use commonsense.

#10. Posted by Sweet Mary on June 08, 2018

Just what a mother with a newborn and a sick child needs, additional stress and no support from the government.

#11. Posted by No brainer on June 08, 2018

Women’s issues never get enough support or attention. With more females elected you would think you would see more action on topics like this and the shortage of daycares.So simple to approve her request and the benefits of breastfeeding are indisputable and would likely save the GN in other areas.

#12. Posted by APPLYING ISV on June 08, 2018

How many Inuit societal values are the GN going against by not approving this request?

#13. Posted by ATIPP Breastfeeding is Best on June 08, 2018

Someone should ATIPP to find out which officials are not approving the breastfeeding infants and hold them accountable. Off with their jobs!! Give Janet a raise!

#14. Posted by Great minds think alike on June 08, 2018

I had the same thought about ATIPP and how many times this issue has been discussed or raised.

I bet a lot of times it is not captured in email but women are just told at the health centre.

#15. Posted by Call for action on June 08, 2018

Here is a better question. Which one of these elected officials or public servants will stand up for Shannon and other women like her? The government is punishing her children because Nunavut does not have the same level of health care as other Canadians.

#16. Posted by Focus on women in G6 on June 08, 2018

The folks of Nunavut have a better chance in getting a teary eyed response from Justin Trudeau on this issue than it do from its own people. Can someone raise this to ITK ?  Maybe raise the issue of escorts for pregnant women at the same time.

#17. Posted by Press Pressure on June 08, 2018

See how they run, when someone goes to the Press.
We should all do that if we want the Dept. of |Health to get the point.

#18. Posted by Left with no options on June 08, 2018

Something needs to be done so no other women have to be put in this situation. Couldn’t patient relations solve the problem for all women. Not everyone has the ability to advocate for themself.

#19. Posted by Another mom on June 08, 2018

The government is always sending conflicting messages.  For a few years the government of Nunavut had always promoted breastfeeding over bottlefeeding.  And now, we are told we cannot bring our breastfeeding babies with us.  Hmmmm?

#20. Posted by Just Say on June 08, 2018

#5 Northerner, please go back and reread my comment which was “per aircraft row”, now that is specifically per row per side, based on the number of oxygen masks available in the overhead.

For example in a 737 there are 4 oxygen masks per row/side for the 3 seats, plus 1 for an infant. I have seen instances where people had to change seats because people showed up with extra infants.

It is also a requirement that the airline know who is onboard, so every infant must be on the manifest.

#21. Posted by Just asking on June 08, 2018

#4 Northern Guy, sorry you are just flat out wrong. The GN is responsible for the travel for the patient and escort, not the patient, escort, and an infant if the escort wants to bring one along.

What you will find is that aunt Suzie who lives in Ottawa wants to see Mary’s 1 year old, so Mary asks Her friend Jenny who is going out as an escort to take the 1 year old, and drop her off to Mary for a couple of weeks. But Mary thought Jenny was coming next week, so we have Jenny with someone else’s kid to look after and she doesn’t want to, so she leaves the infant at the boarding home while she goes out shopping.

Bottom line, if it’s unregulated people will take advantage of it, abuse it, and there will be problems.

Just saying

#22. Posted by Nunavunmiutaq on June 10, 2018


#23. Posted by mother who breastfed on June 11, 2018

I have traveled leaving my breastfed child so many times. No one hears what you ask for unless it is used personally by the MLA’s. I personally paid for sitter’s to come along more than once when I haave to travel out of my home town. When will breastfed mothers be heard?

#24. Posted by Anaana and Inuk on June 11, 2018

Not any different than this Anaana. I had to pay my mom’s way to Iqaluit to help me with my breastfed baby. Like #21 says, GN is protecting itself from any other danger that infant can cause or any other expense. Yeah, there’s no danger of that infant or no cost but shit can happen. What’s going to happen to the patient when the infant needs more attention? My mom was there to replace me as an escort IF there were anything to happen to my baby.

No human is any different to GN.

Remember my personal information

Notify me of follow-up comments?