Nunavut’s 14-day isolation hubs ‘offside the law and the latest science,’ says civil liberties watchdog
‘The measures as they currently stand are not proportionate and must be revised,’ CCLA says
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association says that the Government of Nunavut’s rules for people wishing to enter the territory “are offside the law and the latest science.”
The CCLA wrote on Wednesday to Health Minister Lorne Kusugak and the territory’s chief public health officer, Dr. Michael Patterson, expressing its concerns about Nunavut’s requirement that most people spend two weeks in an isolation hub before entering the territory.
“The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees mobility rights and these rights can only be limited in a manner that is both reasonable and demonstrably justified,” says the letter.
“The measures as they currently stand are not proportionate and must be revised.”
Since March 23 last year, anyone entering Nunavut, except for critical workers and others with a letter of exemption, must complete a 14-day isolation period in one of the territory’s southern isolation hubs in Ottawa, Winnipeg, Edmonton or Yellowknife.
The issue for the CCLA is that those hubs have not changed since then.
“Although the mandatory hotel isolation may have been justified at a certain point in time, our collective understanding of the virus has evolved significantly,” CCLA’s letter says.
“COVID-19 is no longer a new or unknown virus and governments across the country must be engaged in a continual process of review to ensure that the measures they have put in place balance the risk posed by COVID-19 with other important interests.”
Last week, the federal COVID-19 Testing and Screening Expert Advisory Panel recommended that adjustments be made to federal quarantine requirements. The CCLA says in its letter that provinces and territories also need to consider these changes.
One recommendation made by the advisory panel was that a shortened seven-day isolation period with a test on the seventh day might be similarly effective to a 14-day isolation period.
The advisory panel also recommended different testing and isolation requirements based on an individual’s vaccination status.
The CCLA letter highlights that this recommendation “would eliminate the self-isolation requirement for those who are fully vaccinated and receive a negative test result on arrival in the country.”
This is not the first time that the civil liberties watchdog has expressed concern over some of Nunavut’s pandemic-related public health orders.
In April 2020 it called the territory’s open-ended ban on gatherings “unconstitutional.”
The order allowed for entries into homes without warrants under certain circumstances to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Days later, the GN revised its COVID-19 public health orders to clarify circumstances where gathering is permitted.
The Government of Nunavut’s response to the current letter is not likely to be as fast.
In an interview with Nunatsiaq News on Thursday afternoon, Kusugak said that he wasn’t surprised to see the letter and that it will not affect any process.
“We have a plan and we’ll stick to our plan,“ he said.
“We have to protect Nunavummiut first and foremost and that is, unfortunately, the best defence.”
“From day one we acknowledged that all of the public health measures, they all have their downside,” he said.
“But right now, there’s still that benefit of protecting those people who haven’t been able to get vaccinated yet.”
Kusugak added that if the hubs weren’t in place, there would be multiple outbreaks in multiple communities across the territory.
“We wouldn’t have been able to do what we’ve done,” he said.
Earlier this week, Patterson said that broader reopening plans, as seen in other jurisdictions around the country, can probably be expected within the next week or two, adding that it depends a lot on what happens in Iqaluit over that time period.
The Government of Nunavut is scheduled to hold a COVID-19 news briefing on Friday.
With files from Mélanie Ritchot