Civil rights group says Nunavut’s obligatory lodge isolation not legally justifiable

Nunavut MLAs and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association are wondering whether mandatory hotel isolation still makes sense at the current vaccination rate in the Territory.

The civil rights group named the isolation centers in a letter to Nunavut’s Health Minister Lorne Kusugak and Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson “outside the law and the newest science”.

As of late March 2020, the Nunavut government has required most of its residents to spend two weeks in isolation in a government-run quarantine before returning to the territory. To this end, it has signed hotels in four Canadian cities.

“While mandatory hotel isolation may have been warranted at some point, our collective understanding of the virus has evolved significantly,” the letter reads.

The letter’s author, attorney Cara Zwibel, said the situation in Nunavut has changed. More tests are now available, Nunavut’s vaccination rates are rising, and she specifically referred to a report by a panel of experts put together by the federal government to advise Canada on COVID-19 testing.

The report found that a seven-day quarantine with a test at the end “can be as effective as a 14-day quarantine without a test”.

Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees mobility rights and while governments can restrict those rights, there must be a reason for the restrictions and the restrictions must be as minimal as possible, according to the CCLA.

“From our point of view, the severity of the isolation requirements in Nunavut is neither justified nor reasonable at the moment,” said Zwibel. She encouraged the government to review its policies in light of these legal requirements.

Health Minister Lorne Kusugak said government public health officials are considering all options to withdraw isolation requirements, but only provided a vague timetable for when this could happen. (Beth Brown / CBC)

This is not the first time the association has asked Nunavut to reconsider its travel restrictions. Last May, its executive director wrote another letter to then Justice Minister Jeannie Ehaloak saying the area may not have the right to restrict mobility rights in isolation centers.

Isolation requirements must change before the end of summer

Throughout the spring legislative session, the MLAs raised the hardship caused by the isolation centers, such as the lack of Inuktitut services and land food, and the high cost of keeping the isolation centers running.

When interviewed by Iqaluit-Manirajak MLA Adam Arreak Lightstone at the meeting Thursday, Kusugak said only that public health officials are considering all options to withdraw isolation requirements.

“I can’t give you a confirmed date, but I can assure you that it will definitely be before the end of summer. It could be this week, it could be next week, it could be the week after.” said Kusugak.

Arreak Lightstone specifically wanted to know if the government was considering allowing the fully vaccinated nunavummiut to skip or shorten their isolation, as he felt it could encourage more people to get vaccinated.

Approximately 60 percent of adults in Nunavut are fully vaccinated, which is 38.5 percent of the total population, according to the Nunavut government website.

He referred to Newfoundland, Yukon and Saskatchewan, all of which recently changed entry restrictions for vaccinated residents.

While Kusugak said he agreed with Arreak Lightstone that things were changing, he claimed Nunavut is different. These jurisdictions have roads that give them access to more health services.

Nunavik, which shares many of the same restrictions as Nunavut, announced this week that its isolation policy will change starting June 14th. Fully vaccinated travelers only need to isolate themselves for seven days before they can take a COVID-19 test.

If the test result is negative, they no longer need to be isolated.

Dr. Marie Rochette, the public health director for the Nunavik Board of Health and Social Services, said in an interview with CBCs Tuttavik that she expects most people to get their test results in about 24 hours and get out of isolation immediately afterwards.

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