An often overlooked and under reported facet of declarations of health emergencies by territorial government are the sweeping powers given to law enforcement, namely the ability to enter residences without a warrant.
This measure is in place for enforcement around the ban on public gatherings that would present a serious threat to public health and falls under the Public Health Act.
It should be used with discretion, but it is still an option in law enforcement’s tool belt.
Recently in Kugluktuk, hamlet peace officers seemed to put those emergency measures in action while breaking up a series of illegal card games.
On April 18, three Kugluktuk peace officers came to a home that had dozens of pairs of shoes outside and entered to find evidence of a card game.
Despite that an alleged 30 to 40 people were all hiding in bedrooms at the home when the officers first entered, eventually the game was busted and everyone involved were given warnings.
The officers walked a moral tight-rope while breaking up that game and were prudent enough to only issue warnings. Without clear guidelines in place for how these measures are to be used, these situations can breed messy breaches of civil rights.
In this case the resident consented to the officers entering the home and breaking up the game, but it’s not far-fetched to think enforcement officers have been, and will continue to, face challenges similar to these.
Nunavummiut should know that gathering in large numbers for card games is not the right way to protect your Elders, neighbours or community during the pandemic – especially with a newly confirmed case in Pond Inlet.
It takes just one sick person interacting with a community member who attends a gathering in a home to cause a full-blown outbreak.
The now single case in Nunavut should not provide a false sense of security to Nunavummiut. The threat of infection is still very real and the devastating effects of the pandemic are being felt around the country.
In any case, getting residents to follow orders for their own good is a tricky balancing act.
Top doctor Michael Patterson and Health Minister George Hickes tried to dispel fears around the use of emergency powers by stating that the current ban on gatherings would not justify unwarranted entry into a residence. But that’s not how the Public Health Act is worded.
Guidelines for uses of these measures and how they will eventually be reversed, need to be clearly communicated to law enforcement or bylaw enforcement as well as the general public for accountability.
It also eliminates any grey area questions around whether someone can be written up for visiting a family member in need, or riding in a car with someone you don’t live with.
Enforcement needs to be tightly tethered to common sense. Overzealous application of the law is a quick recipe for distrust and resentment which would make the jobs of protecting Nunavummiut from Covid very difficult, if not impossible.