More than 100 people refused entry to Canada’s North under COVID-19 travel bans

A truck is stopped at the check point near Watson Lake, Yukon. 24 people have been turned away from the border since travel restrictions came into effect April 17. (Submitted by the Government of Yukon)
More than 100 people have been refused entry to Canada’s territories since travel restrictions were first put in place in late March, according to government numbers.

Spokespeople in Yukon and Nunavut said dozens of travellers had been turned away for not meeting entry requirements set out in public health orders restricting travel to the territories.

The Government of the Northwest Territories, meanwhile, was unable to provide information on refused entries to the territory by deadline, more than six weeks after a travel ban was put in place.

All three territories have active public health orders prohibiting non-essential travel from the rest of Canada, made possible by emergency legislation.

Across the North, exceptions are made for returning residents, essential workers, and people exercising treaty rights.

But not everyone thinks the system is functioning as it should. Health authorities in the N.W.T. recently came under fire for refusing entry to a Gwich’in man who had lost his job in British Columbia and wanted to return to his hometown.

In Yukon, where non-residents are allowed to travel through the territory on their way to other destinations, more than 1,000 people were permitted to enter the territory for 24 hours with no guarantee they had left at the end of it.

Yukon refuses 24 people, some awaiting appeal

On Monday, CBC News sent requests to all three territorial governments for the number of people refused entry to the territory and the reasons behind those refusals. All three governments were given 48 hours to provide the best available data at that time.

On Wednesday, Kara Johancsik, an information officer with Yukon’s Emergency Coordination Centre, confirmed 24 people had been refused entry to the territory since April 17, when the travel ban was put in place.

Most of these refused entries were at the territory’s border with British Columbia. Seven were refused entry at Junction 37, and 16 were refused at the crossing near Watson Lake.

Only one person was turned back at the Whitehorse airport.

An RV is stopped at the check point at the weigh scales near Watson Lake, Yukon. Some drivers who have been turned away are awaiting appeals on the roadside, Johancsik wrote. (Submitted by the Government of Yukon)

“The person was directed to return on the next available flight home at their own cost and to self-isolate at a designated hotel until their flight,” Johancsik wrote in an email.

“Our enforcement officers … are continuing to monitor that individual to make sure they are self-isolating as directed and will depart on their return flight.”

Those who arrive by highway are turned around and sent back into B.C. At least one has been allowed to refuel in Watson Lake before departing.

“One example of someone we denied entry to was a family who was hoping to drive north to see the Arctic Ocean,” wrote Johancsik.

But it appears not everyone is accepting decisions made at the border.

“Some vehicles are choosing to park on the side of the road at the border and await appeal,” Johancsik noted, without providing further details.

More than 100 rejected in Nunavut

In addition to being a returning resident or critical worker, Nunavut requires that all travellers isolate for 14 days in designated centres in Ottawa, Winnipeg, Edmonton or Yellowknife before they travel.

Then, they must complete a request form outlining their travel and isolation history before they are permitted to enter the territory.

Chris Puglia, a spokesperson for Nunavut’s Department of Health, said to date, there have been “no deportations of people from the territory.” But 102 people have been prevented from travelling after their applications for permission failed.

That could be because they don’t meet residency requirements, or because they haven’t self-isolated prior to travel and don’t meet the definition of an essential worker.

An N.W.T. transportation officer stops vehicles coming in and out of Enterprise, N.W.T. The territorial government was unable to provide information on travellers refused entry to the territory more than six weeks after travel restrictions came into effect. (Anna Desmarais/CBC)
No data from N.W.T.

The N.W.T. has been under a travel ban for more than six weeks. But alone among the territories, the N.W.T. was unable to provide any information on the number of refused entries and removals from the territory within 48 hours.

“Synthesizing the data on these particular asks is proving to take a bit longer than expected,” wrote Trista Haugland, a spokesperson, in an email requesting a two-day extension.

The territory’s record-keeping on people sent out of the territory has been called into question before.

Last week, a Yellowknife newspaper reported that a tourist had been allowed to travel to the territory for two days in April and was only noticed when local hotels sounded the alarm.

At the time, a spokesperson for the territorial health authorities and the territory’s chief public health officer, Dr. Kami Kandola, said they had no records of the incident.

Later, the spokesperson clarified that they did have records of a traveller breaking the ban — but couldn’t be certain it was the same incident.

Related stories from around the North:

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

Canada: Arctic Canada: top doctor apologizes for Nunavut’s false positive COVID-19 case, CBC News

Finland: First Covid-19 death reported in southwestern Finnish Lapland, Yle News

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

Norway: Norwegian Arctic wilderness tourism hit particularly hard by coronavirus, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Almost 2,000 workers have contracted COVID-19 at this Russian Arctic construction site, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: WHO says Sweden’s coronavirus strategy could be ‘a future model’ post lockdowns, Radio Sweden

United States: COVID-19 pandemic raises hard questions about health disparities, says Int’l Inuit org, Eye on the Arctic

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