Warrantless entries not justified to enforce Nunavut’s ban on gatherings, says official

“I don’t foresee that happening with the current circumstances”

Nunavut Health Minister George Hickes responds to reporters’ questions during a COVID-19 news conference. Public health officials and law enforcement agencies can’t enter a home unless there is “consent or extenuating circumstances,” he said on Wednesday, April 22. (Photo by Emma Tranter)

By Jane George

(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.”

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(12) Comments:

  1. Posted by Not Written That Way on

    He’s welcome to say what he wishes, but that isn’t the way that the legislation is written.

  2. Posted by Ham Qaumayuq Kipsigak on

    Wish I could be more expert in English writing….My comment may be a bit differs….Why the Nunavut Government Liquor warehouse small community ordering BAN…to order and consume….while the Government Iqaluit city of Nunavut dwellings….still can consume an alcoholic beverages in the and they can ALSO goes to the “Wine and Beer Store” to buy……every day…..While we the small community can even order….Is that a such an order from our Nunavut Government to ban…..is a “CONSITITUTIONAL”….I ask…

  3. Posted by Ham Qaumayuq Kipsigak on

    Such our Nunavut’s Governments are HYPERCRITIC….

  4. Posted by Separate the two on

    The Minister of CGS has the authority to declare emergencies, under the Emergency Measures Act, which he has not yet done so. Hamlets also have authority under the Emergencies Measures Act, to declare local state of emergencies where there is an ‘imminent situation or event that is seriously affecting or could seriously affect the health, safety or welfare of persons.”

    If the Chief Public Health Officer can restrict travel due to his Public Health Emergency declaration, even if there are no cases of Covid-19, then his justification that the Hamlet can’t take the same preventative measures in their community due to lack of Covid-19 is a double standard.

  5. Posted by Ted on

    My question to the Minister, why has the testing for Covid-19 been less instead of increasing tests?

    This is very concerning as testing helps to keep infections down and track where it comes from.

    People can go without symptoms and infect people. Minister please tell us why the GN is not testing.

    • Posted by iThink on

      Allow me to kick off the exploration of possible answers to this with
      1. incapacity to test that has been animated by incompetence
      2. wishful and magical thinking (if we keep praying it won’t come here)

      Anyone else?

  6. Posted by Why separate rules George? on

    Your constituents are allowed to mingle and crowd together in the hundreds at your beer store, while the rest of Nunavut is banned from doing the same. Are you just an Iqaluit Minister? This never seems to be asked by the media which seem to never ever notice it.

  7. Posted by Wow on

    These are exceptional times. Exceptional actions have to be done. There is no control here. Drunks going door to door, people playing card games nightly at different locations. On FB there was someone wanting to have a card game outside Hamlet jurisdiction. Blame someone else for the Government slow actions. Always after the fact. Idiots

  8. Posted by Wow on

    These are exceptional times which at times require our community of Kugluktuk to take action. There were many other attempts at stopping card games. Many people are not listening to chief medical officer’s wishes for social distancing. Drunks are walking door to door, card games etc going on while concerned residents try their best to be safe during this pandemic. Thanks for putting down our peace officers who are also concerned with the deadly virus. Make some laws or bylaws so our peace officers can keep order without the Elected officers crying wolf.

  9. Posted by Lets Get Real on

    When are we going to start hearing the Nunavut Governments plan for getting things back to normal in Nunavut.
    The Federal government boasted about a 30 minute test kit for Covid-19 that would be available to remote locations such as Nunavut. How many have we ordered ??? What is the ETA on the order.
    Why are people quarantining for 14 days in Southern locations, only to be packed on a flight flying back into Nunavut with essential workers that have not quarantined.
    We cant depend or wait for the Federal & Territorial Governments direction on this, we need to be more pro active.
    This money bail out will have to end soon, and when it does who do you think is going to have to pay for all this. “YOU” that’s right some how some way the Federal Government will claw back every penny they gave you in assistance, and charge you a service fee on top of that for its service.
    So Lets Get Real…….Starting asking the right questions to your Government & Municipal & Hamlet Elected Officials

  10. Posted by Simple on

    They obviously knew what they were doing was wrong if they went to go and hide in the rooms. They didn’t respect the orders of social distancing and banned gatherings so why are they whining about a warrant now? They want to break rules when it benefits themselves and try use rules against the people who try to help keep us safe. Think about your kids, elders, family and communitys health and safety rather than making a big deal out of cardgames which you aren’t even supposed to be playing in the first place. Be a role model to your children and show them how to follow and respect authority. By-law is finally tightening the rules and enforcing, working hard to keep us safe. Isn’t that what we always wanted?

  11. Posted by Misery on

    We all have problems in life, and in this new crisis. But it amazing how some people in some places are just incredible with their problems. It’s too bad karma can’t be a by product and make this world a better place. I have zero respect for these problem low life .

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