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The Northwest Territories' COVID-19 Secretariat says it saved taxpayers money by renting a COVID-19 enforcement vehicle from a company that's owned by one of its senior managers and his brother.
The Health Department leased the vehicle in Inuvik last September. It says until then, officials enforcing COVID-19 public health orders in the region were using vehicles from other departments. Over the summer, the departments requested their vehicles back.
"To address an immediate need, the Department of Health and Social Services entered into a short-term (six-month) lease for a vehicle," wrote a department official in an email. "Staff reached out to local companies to determine what was available given the short time frame and a Toyota 4Runner was the lowest [price] option available."
The government says it is paying Arctic Char Expeditions $2,500 per month for the vehicle. In the email, the official says the only other quote the department got was from the one car rental business in Inuvik, Driving Force. It says that company was going to charge $3,600 per month.
Arctic Char Expeditions is owned by brothers Merle and Brad Carpenter. Merle Carpenter is a superintendent for the Inuvik region for the Department of Infrastructure. He referred inquiries from CBC to his brother, Brad, who he says is president of Arctic Char and negotiated the lease.
Brad Carpenter says the company got the lease after it responded to a request for a quote from the COVID-19 Secretariat.
"For reasons unknown to me, certain individuals are working together in an attempt to discredit my business partner," said Brad Carpenter in an email. "Now, I'm guessing they have decided to use the federally funded CBC as their newest tactic.
"As a result, I've found myself caught in the crossfire. It has escalated to the point where we (my business partner and I) have been victimized through vandalism to our business. Furthermore, my business partner has faced harassment at his own home."
Brad Carpenter said "this entire ordeal" has had a negative impact on his and his brother's lives and their company. He concludes by saying he has no further comment.
CBC filed an access to information request for records related to the decision to lease the vehicle.
The leasing was overseen by Wayne Norris, the assistant director of compliance and enforcement for the COVID-19 Secretariat. Based in Norman Wells, Norris, like Merle Carpenter, is a former RCMP officer who is from the Beaufor Delta region.
Though it told CBC in an email that Driving Force quoted a price of $3,600 per month, it redacted the amounts in two quotes provided by Driving Force on Aug. 17 in response to the access to information request.
Similarly, there are numerous redactions to a Sept. 2 lease agreement between the government and Arctic Char for the 2018 Toyota 4Runner, including the monthly amount to be paid, mileage charges, a down payment the government is to provide under the agreement (which is subtracted from lease payments), and the total amount payable upon signing the lease.
In an email sent the same day, Norris informed a government official his office has "accepted a Toyota vehicle for use ... from Arctic Char from the N.W.T." Norris says the lease agreement still needs to be signed off, but he anticipates having the vehicle in operation in the coming week or so.
There is another signed one-page agreement, dated Sept.15, in which Arctic Char Expeditions agrees to lease the vehicle for $2,500 per month for six months starting Aug. 26. That document notes "conditions attached to this document are part of this contract." It is unclear if the Sept. 2 lease agreement is the attachment referred to.
The government said it entered into the six-month lease because the vehicle was needed immediately. It says the COVID-19 Secretariat has initiated a formal process for a longer-term lease or purchase of a vehicle for the Beaufort Delta region.
CBC has asked the privacy commissioner, who rules on the appropriateness of access to information redactions, to review the government's response to its request.
An official with the commissioner's office said it can take in the order of six months to complete such a review, depending on the nature of the request and the amount of reviews being undertaken.