Checkstop 'will not prevent COVID-19' warns premier as Tuktoyaktuk turns away visitors

Starting on Tuesday, Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T., will have a checkstop in the hamlet and start turning away visitors and partiers in an effort to protect the community against COVID-19.

According to Mayor Erwin Elias, the checkstop will give the hamlet more power over who can come into the community, which is something he's wanted since before the first COVID-19 case was reported in the Northwest Territories.

"We want to definitely advertise to the whole region, the whole North for that matter, that we don't want any visitors in the community at this time. Unless it's an emergency. Unless it's essential services," Elias said Monday.

"Right now we are in a situation where we have people from other communities coming into our community and partying around Tuk."

During a teleconference with media on Tuesday, N.W.T. Premier Caroline Cochrane said while it's important to make sure people do not hold social gatherings — even if they remain six feet apart from one another — community checkstops are not the answer.

It is not about violence, it is not about checkpoints. - N.W.T. Premier Caroline Cochrane

"A checkpoint at the beginning of your community will not prevent COVID-19," Cochrane said. 

She said a checkstop means someone has to be outside their home, when the recommendation from the chief public health officer is to stay home unless absolutely necessary. 

She's also worried checkstops could result in violence. 

"It is not about violence, it is not about checkpoints," she said. "I hope people will defer that action."

But at an emergency meeting Monday afternoon, mayor and hamlet councillors said creating a checkstop and controlling alcohol coming into the community were the main topics of discussion. 

Elias said the hamlet is in the process of obtaining a temporary liquor prohibition. He said this would allow RCMP officers to stop vehicles to see if people are bringing in alcohol, and to take action against people who are drinking.

Mackenzie Scott/CBC

The idea is to keep people sheltering in place, said Elias. He said a number of people are partying and not physically distancing.

"One of the big concerns in the community right now is the amount of residents that are drinking throughout the community and wandering around the street," said Elias.

"We have a lot of people that are actually concerned about this. We have a lot of people that are scared and the majority of the people are doing their best to stay away from each other to self-isolate."

He said they already have an alcohol prohibition every year, during the Beluga Jamboree.

Sara Minogue/CBC

Elias said the Northwest Territories government should be limiting how much alcohol people can buy.

He also wants residents to stay put in the hamlet.

"I think people need to step up as well … we have two stores in the community here. The service is here," he said. "If people take this thing seriously, then they won't go travelling back and forth to try and get a better deal at Stanton's in Inuvik or the Northmart."

Nunakput MLA backs hamlet

Jackie Jacobson, the MLA for Nunakput, said he supports Tuktoyatuk's decisions.

"I believe there should be a prohibition in the communities, and I believe that the rationing system should start," said Jacobson. "I'm 100 per cent behind him [Elias] in regards to what we are doing in Tuk."

The small communities are not being heard. It's plain and simple. - Jackie Jacobson, MLA for Nunakput

More than two weeks ago, Jacobson and Elias requested an amendment to the Hamlets Act so Tuktoyaktuk could have more authority over how it governs itself. They have yet to receive a response from the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs. 

Jacobson also wants to know if residents who are returning to communities will have a doctor's note or official confirmation that they self-isolated in one of the four communities designated by the Office of the Chief Public Health Officer: Yellowknife, Fort Smith, Hay River or Inuvik. 

Jacobson is critical of communication from the territorial government. He said emails aren't being answered and phone calls aren't being returned.

"The small communities are not being heard. It's plain and simple," said Jacobson.

He said he stands behind the mayors and constituents.

"If it takes doing things that are not approved by our government, I don't care," said Jacobson.