National Inuit organization calls on Ottawa to deem northern air travel an essential service
Essential service designation means federal funds can be allocated, ITK says
Canada’s national Inuit organization is calling on the federal government to designate air transportation in Inuit Nunangat an essential service during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a March 31 news release, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami said airline travel routes are the sole entry points for food, medicine and other essential supplies for Canada’s North.
“In winter and spring, airline travel routes are lifelines, the equivalent to roads and railways in southern Canada,” the release said.
ITK said by designating air transportation in Inuit Nunangat an essential service, the federal government would “position these activities as services that must continue.”
“It would allow federal funds to be allocated for the provision of such services, as they are for other federally regulated services to which all Canadians have a right to access no matter where they live,” the release said.
Last week, the Government of Nunavut announced travel restrictions that would only allow residents and critical workers to enter the territory.
Emergency support for airlines operating in Inuit Nunangat is needed to “guarantee the ongoing supply of essential goods, as well as timely access to medical care, including in relation to COVID-19,” ITK said.
“Major airlines operating in Inuit Nunangat have pledged a minimum level of passenger and cargo service, at increasing financial loss. With declining revenues, this will become increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to maintain.”
“Our airlines are called on for the transport of medical patients and for delivery of COVID-19 swabs, and form a critical backbone to our healthcare system. Any delays in this system due to significantly reduced flight schedules poses a significant risk to Inuit health and wellbeing,” Natan Obed, ITK president, said in the release.
Canadian North, which serves Inuit communities in the N.W.T. and Nunavut, is owned by Makivik Corp. and the Inuvialuit Development Corp. Air Inuit, which serves Nunavik, is also owned by Makivik.
Representatives from these Inuit organizations also sit as voting members on ITK’s board of directors, along with representatives from Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. and the Nunatsiavut Government.