Warrantless entries not justified to enforce Nunavut’s ban on gatherings, says official
“I don’t foresee that happening with the current circumstances”
(Updated, April 24 at 2:55 p.m.)
Nunavut’s chief medical officer and the territory’s health minister say they can’t see why the government’s order banning gatherings during the COVID-19 health emergency could justify entries into homes without a warrant in hand.
The comments came during the Wednesday news conference when Dr. Michael Patterson and Health Minister George Hickes responded to reporters’ questions about the emergency public health order that has led communities like Kugluktuk to send peace officers into homes without warrants to break up parties where residents had gathered to play cards.
According to the wording of Nunavut’s Public Health Act order restricting mass gatherings, peace officers have the right to enter a dwelling without a warrant when there is “a serious and immediate risk to public health.”
But Patterson said, “I don’t foresee that happening with the current circumstances.”
That power would generally be applied in the case of non-compliance with a public health restriction by an individual with a highly communicable disease, he said.
There are no cases of COVID-19 in the western Nunavut community of about 1,600, or in Nunavut, as of April 23.
Patterson said that the peace officers in Kugluktuk had not engaged with his office.
“I am not aware of the circumstances of when the officers went into houses or how that was being done,” he said.
Even before this past weekend, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association had suggested Nunavut had gone too far with its public health order that bans gatherings and allows for entries into homes without warrants under certain circumstances.
The CCLA said the legal test of permitting warrantless entry is “exigent circumstances”—such as an officer seeing a gun to the head of someone through the front window.
Hickes confirmed that public health officials and law enforcement agencies couldn’t enter a home unless there is “consent or extenuating circumstances.”
“If a law enforcement officer would knock on the door and see 40 people in the household that could potentially lead to a further investigation,” he said.
But he did not say that could prompt a warrantless entry.
Hickes also said the intent of this part of the Public Health Act that gives peace officers the right to enter a dwelling without a warrant when there is “a serious and immediate risk to public health” is to oblige a non-compliant person to follow public health recommendations.
He added that any fines or punishments for breaking rules now in effect due to the COVID-19 public health emergency would be on a “case-specific basis.”
Recently the GN gave all Nunavut communities money to, if they chose, carry out more enforcement of measures to contain COVID-19.
Timothy St. Croix of the Kugluktuk Peace Officers told Nunatsiaq News on Friday, April 24, that he wanted to correct the impression that the community’s peace officers had gone into houses without warrants.
They “have not and will not” enter any premises without a warrant, he said.
“The only time we have entered a dwelling is when we had the consent of the homeowner,” he said, referring to several houses in Kugluktuk where he and other peace officers broke up card parties last weekend.
“If we are not welcome in a home, we will not enter without a warrant.”