Inuit org wants Canada to deem air transport essential during COVID-19 crisis

“Our airlines are called on for the transport of medical patients and for delivery of COVID-19 swabs, and form a critical backbone to our healthcare system,” says Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami President Natan Obed, pictured here in 2017 in Ottawa. “Any delays in this system due to significantly reduced flight schedules poses a significant risk to Inuit health and wellbeing.” (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)
The national Inuit organization in Canada is calling on the federal government to deem air transport an essential service for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Air travel routes in Inuit Nunangat are equivalent to the TransCanada Highway in Southern Canada,” said Natan Obed, the president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, in a news release on Tuesday. (Inuit Nunangat is a term used to refer to Canada’s four Inuit regions: The Inuvialuit Settlement Region in Canada’s Northwest Territories; Canada’s eastern Arctic territory of Nunavut; Nunavik in northern Quebec; and Nunatsiavut, in the Atlantic Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador.)

“They are vital links connecting remote regions of the country to each other and to more populous centres,” Obed said. 

“Our airlines are called on for the transport of medical patients and for delivery of COVID-19 swabs, and form a critical backbone to our healthcare system. Any delays in this system due to significantly reduced flight schedules poses a significant risk to Inuit health and wellbeing.” 

Travel restrictions are in place across Canada, including in the North, in an effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus.  The majority of Canada’s 51 Inuit communities are fly-in only, and are re-supplied either by air or sealift. 

Airlines operating at loss

Travel restrictions put in place in Canada’s northern territories in response to the pandemic have exemptions in place for things like cargo or emergency medical travel. But ITK says the decreased service could negatively impact communities in the long term, prolonging the waiting times to access health care services in the South,  as well as forcing airlines which serve the North, many which are Inuit-owned, to operate at a loss. 

“With declining revenues, this will become increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to maintain,” ITK said. 

Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami represents the approximately 65,000 Inuit in Canada. 

Write to Eilís Quinn at eilis.quinn(at)

Related stories from around the North:

Arctic: Roundup of COVID-19 responses around the Arctic, Eye on the Arctic

Canada: Inuit gov in Atlantic Canada postpones election over COVID-19 concerns, Eye on the Arctic

Finland: Finns continue with ski holiday plans despite travel advisory, Yle News

Greenland: COVID-19: Arctic science expedition postpones flight campaign after trainee tests positive for virus, Eye on the Arctic

Norway: Norway to focus on civil society, press freedom as chair of Barents Euro-Arctic Council, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Arctic oil plans in Norway and Russia disrupted amid COVID-19 crisis, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Why are Sweden’s politicians taking a different tack for coronavirus?, Radio Sweden

Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn is an award-winning journalist and manages Radio Canada International’s Eye on the Arctic news cooperation project. Eilís has reported from the Arctic regions of all eight circumpolar countries and has produced numerous documentary and multimedia series about climate change and the issues facing Indigenous peoples in the North.

Her investigative report "Death in the Arctic: A community grieves, a father fights for change," about the murder of Robert Adams, a 19-year-old Inuk man from Arctic Quebec, received the silver medal for “Best Investigative Article or Series” at the 2019 Canadian Online Publishing Awards. The project also received an honourable mention for excellence in reporting on trauma at the 2019 Dart Awards in New York City.

Her report “The Arctic Railway: Building a future or destroying a culture?” on the impact a multi-billion euro infrastructure project would have on Indigenous communities in Arctic Europe was a finalist at the 2019 Canadian Association of Journalists award in the online investigative category.

Her multimedia project on the health challenges in the Canadian Arctic, "Bridging the Divide," was a finalist at the 2012 Webby Awards.

Her work on climate change in the Arctic has also been featured on the TV science program Découverte, as well as Le Téléjournal, the French-Language CBC’s flagship news cast.

Eilís has worked for media organizations in Canada and the United States and as a TV host for the Discovery/BBC Worldwide series "Best in China."

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