NOTES/QUOTES #18: Panicky pandemic policies; Wildflower wilts; Crown tarnished; and a funny map
The headline states: “Don’t get too comfortable, NWT’s premier warns residents.”
Don’t worry, Caroline, we’re not.
In fact, as another week passed, there were more stories about people struggling to get by under the pandemic lockdown.
- “After more than 60 years in business, Plummer’s Arctic Lodges won’t be opening this summer.”
- “GNWT summer student hires slashed amid pandemic.”
- “NWT tourism companies begin to fold with borders closed.”
- “Welders Daughter singer describes ‘devastation’ of her livelihood.”
That last headline on Cabin Radio’s web page caught my eye, as being a former entertainment writer, I have a soft spot for performers and the entire music industry.
And Karen Novak’s story is heart-wrenching.
For three decades, Karen Novak has paid her bills by singing in bars. Now, the NWT’s new pandemic recovery plan specifically bans singing in bars.
Novak, who fronts stalwart NWT band Welders Daughter, says that has caused “total devastation” to her livelihood and she is now selling what she can to raise money.
Speaking to Cabin Radio, Novak said she is worried for her future when federal emergency benefits dry up.
“I’ve got a special needs child to raise. I’m selling everything I own just to cover my bills,” she said. “You want to buy a nice purple Jeep?”
That’s truly sad. Not that Novac owns a purple Jeep, but the GNWT has bought into some opinion by an expert somewhere that a live performance in a bar — even a place that is practicing good sanitary measures and operating at a reduced capacity — is a danger to our well-being. In a region that’s currently COVID free.
Sure, the feds and GNWT have injected money into the populace like so much Novocain in a dentist’s office. But when that wears off — I assume we won’t be living in this horrible socialist utopia forever — we will be in a lot of pain.
Businesses gone. Jobs gone (yes, even in the public sector). Addictions up. Poverty up. Our future in doubt. All the progress made in the NWT in past years will be wiped away.
I am certainly not calling for all precautions detailed in the GNWT’s Emerging Wisely plan to be lifted, as it’s obvious we need to control travel into the NWT, to protect our virus-free bubble as best we can.
But as for the restrictions to businesses and gatherings, the one question that I have not heard being put to Premier Cochrane is: What will be different in our situation here, inside the NWT, at the end of the year that is different from right now? For example, why can restaurant dining rooms and movie theatres open in a month or so, but not now?
I remind folks that as of this writing, all five of the NWT’s confirmed COVID-19 cases have recovered and there is no evidence of community spread.
My other passion is volunteering with the Rotary Club of Yellowknife, where I am the incoming club administrator. It’s a hard-working bunch of folks who do some good work for the community. Most are older (makes me feel like a youngin), so clearly the club wouldn’t want to take unnecessary risks, as seniors are particularly vulnerable to the virus.
I am not speaking for the club. I’m just writing a blog. But we haven’t been able to meet for months and now try to keep the group together via Zoom online meetings. Why can’t we meet? Service clubs (Rotary, Legion, Elks) and social clubs (for example 100 Men Who Give A Damn, Weight Watchers and Alcoholics Anonymous) are in a GNWT category of “interpersonal gatherings, determined to have a high intensity of contact, high volume of contact, with a medium-high risk of virus transmission.
So, it looks like we won’t be able to return to our weekly luncheon meetings at the Explorer Hotel until maybe Phase Two next month, but as we have more than 25 members, it likely won’t be until Phase Three, sometime in the fall.
So we are contemplating alternatives, such as holding outdoor gatherings. But they are also governed under the complicated, confusing and convoluted GNWT plan.
And to consider Alcoholics Anonymous as a “social club” is insulting and diminishes the life-saving work that organization does. Yellowknife AA meetings are “temporarily cancelled due to COVID-19, states the AA web page, listing some online options. But the whole point of AA is to get together with other recovering alcoholics and take the power from inside the room to help get through another 24 hours being sober.
The GNWT should consider AA and other recovery groups to be an essential services, not a “social club.” It’s also exceedingly ironic that the GNWT closes AA meetings, but considers booze stores an essential service.
But I digress.
The closest anyone has come to asking the question I posed above to an official was NNSL in a Q&A with Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Kami Kandola in the May 22 print edition of Yellowknifer.
Q: “The biggest thing is if we don’t have any cases, why do we have all of the precautions and phases?”
A: “There are a few important things to remember when thinking about the precautions and phases. First, this pandemic is still hitting Canada and North America very hard right now. That means we’re surrounded by big risks — and it’s very likely we will get more cases in the future. These precautions are to be prepared for when those new cases hit — to reduce the amount of contact people who might be infected have with those who aren’t, and prevent us from losing control of the spread.”
“The phases are necessary because we need to continue to monitor how it’s all going. As the pandemic evolves in these places, the risk level to us changes a lot. And, because there can be spread without people knowing they have it, it’s important to be careful and not just ‘let loose’ all at once so that if there are people who have it who don’t know it, people are following directions to keep each other as safe as possible as we move along.”
I’m still not getteing the reason why we can’t move to Phase Three — right now — instead of sometime in the fall.
Obviously, it will take a miracle for us not to have some more cases of the novel coronavirus enter our currently COVID-free bubble. When that happens, we should be able to handle it. Treat the victim. Contact and isolate people who might have come into contact with that person. And move on.
But wait. “We’re not in a bubble,” Cochrane told reporters in a May 19 press conference. “It only takes one incident. I hate to say it but we have people who are skipping borders, people that might be doing illegal drug runs or bootleggers, those things are happening. At no point are we totally contained that we’re 100 per cent sure we’ll never have COVID-19.”
I get it. She’s concerned. She’s a former social worker who will obviously err on the side of caution. But she has to gather up some moxie and open the territory up in a more aggressive fashion. Life is a series of calculated risks.
I also wonder how flexible the Emerging Wisely plan will be. Is it an etched-in-stone PDF?
For example, we learned in recent days SARS-CoV-2 does not spread easily from touching surfaces. Previous research suggested the coronavirus could be viable on surfaces for many hours, including one full day on cardboard.
But now, the Centre For Disease Control in the United States stated the coronavirus spreads “very easily and sustainably between people,” and that is the main route of transmission. Hand hygiene, social distancing and wearing masks should be top priorities.
So, all that wiping down of surfaces that has been going on — even putting Amazon boxes through a bleach shower before touching them — might have been for naught.
But the GNWT’s materials haven’t been updated to reflect those latest findings.
One web page, the Enhanced Cleaning Checklist, hasn’t been updated since May 8 and still warns, “evidence suggests that COVID-19 can live up to several days depending on the type of surface. Enhanced cleaning of public spaces and work places can reduce the likelihood of COVID-19 staying on surfaces.”
Another GNWT web page, posted April 3, still tells us, “How to use bleach as a disinfectant.”
In the GNWT’s Emerging Wisely plan, the most important, appreciated and understandable items to my mind are:
- Manage risks of importing the virus from outside the territory.
- Travel prohibitions and restrictions in the territory remain in place and those who have traveled outside the territory will continue to be required to self-isolate upon their return.
- Protect vulnerable/high-risk populations like elders, those with underlying or immune-compromising health conditions, and settings like long term care facilities, homeless shelters, and remote, Indigenous communities to minimize outbreak risks.
- Maintain health care and public health capacity demands below critical levels while testing, isolating and treating every case, as well as tracing every contact.
- Should the NWT get an influx of travel-based cases, but all successfully self-isolate, the NWT would not need to go back a phase.
- Should there be evidence of community spread in one small community, that community would go back to the Containment Phase (pre-Phase One).
And to continue social distancing, more hand washing and better hygiene overall and face masks in public when needed. We also need to have good testing capacity, which from what I’ve heard, we do.
But the issue of face masks needs to be clarified. Obviously, wear one if you feel the need if you can’t social distance. But I see people wearing them while walking alone in the street, driving alone in a car or in the middle of a field.
People adjust them and fumble with them — most non-medical ones don’t fit correctly — so they will provide little or no protection from catching a disease. But even homemade ones could prevent your personal droplets from travelling too far. However, I’ve also seen people raise their masks to sneeze, which kinda defeats the purpose.
The main thing is we needn’t get into mask shaming. Or should we?
Premier Cochrane said she found it “disheartening” to see few people wearing face masks when she recently went to the grocery store.
“It tells me that people are getting too comfortable,” she said. “Never forget that risk is right outside our door.”
What it tells me, Premier, is that people are smarter than you think and have educated themselves about the dangers of the virus and measured that against the threat level they face right now in the NWT.
All five of the NWT’s confirmed COVID-19 cases have recovered. There is no evidence of community spread.
I’m sure face masks will appear if that situation were to change.
WILDFLOWER WILTS, JUST A BIT
In the May 4 edition of News/North, Northern Wildflower column by Catherine Lafferty entitled, “Offenders need to know their rights.”
While there is some good information and persuasive opinion presented, there are some confusing passages and the column begins with one of those.
“I was astounded to learn that the latest incarceration rates of Indigenous peoples in the North is at nearly 100 per cent capacity.”
I can’t decipher what that means.
I believe she likely wanted to point out that of sentenced inmate populations in the North, Indigenous people make up 75.6 per cent in Yukon, 89 per cent in NWT, and 98 per cent in Nunavut.
And as NWT Justice Minister Caroline Wawzonek recently noted in a CBC North story, the territory’s Indigenous incarceration rates are actually decreasing slightly, but are still “tremendously high.”
Now while Lafferty’s column bio states she is “a published author and an Indigenous law student who grew up in Yellowknife,” I am a veteran newspaper reporter and editor who has covered law courts for many years in Manitoba and right now for Cabin Radio. So we both have some knowledge of the subject of which we speak.
In the ’90s, I covered the first sentencing in Manitoba that used the Gladue principle. The Gladue principle, named after Cree woman Jamie Tanis Gladue, orders sentencing judges to consider systemic or background factors when Indigenous offenders appear in court.
At first, being a white guy who grew up in Montreal and Toronto before moving to Winnipeg, I didn’t appreciate the reasoning behind the Gladue principle. Along with many of my contemporaries, I considered it being an example of the justice system tilting in favour of Indigenous people. I believed that all people should be considered as equal in the eyes of the law.
I have since completely changed my views on that. I am not ashamed to admit it. Moving to the NWT opened my eyes a lot as to the severe challenges many Indigenous people face due to colonization and especially the residential school system. I hear the stories every day in the Yellowknife courthouse. Many are grim. It’s hard not to excuse some Indigenous people for turning to crime, given the fact they suffer from awful upbringings, poor education opportunities and few job opportunities as a result. Many started drinking alcohol and using drugs as children.
However, there are also many opportunities for Indigenous people to turn their lives around once they do come in contact with the law — especially for non-violent crimes. There are diversion programs and Wellness Court as examples.
But the law still is the law and it needs to be respected if our society is going to function as a whole.
Further in Lafferty’s column she stated: “… those standing in front of the judge charged with petty crimes are often so caught up in the system with breaches and failures to appear that they end up going to jail for nothing other than the crime of being a marginalized person forced to live in a discriminatory society.”
That is Lafferty’s opinion of the law and society in general. Failing to abide by a court order — or deciding not to show up in court — is treated seriously by judges, as it shows a lack of respect for the justice system. And many of the “petty crimes” of breaching a court order are actually probation conditions, part of a total sentence that could include incarceration.
Lafferty noted the lack of a “Gladue writer” in the NWT Justice Department.
“Gladue writers are proven to be an effective source of lowering incarceration rates across the country,” she stated. “It is beyond shameful that the government of the NWT hasn’t done more to try and mitigate the over incarceration rates of Indigenous peoples. I don’t want to hear the lame rationale that judges, lawyers and probation officers who are working in the North are already well versed in the history of colonization just because they live and work in the North and therefore perceive themselves to be culturally aware of Indigenous matters presented to them in court and for that reason there is no need to invite Gladue writers in on the game.”
On this point, I agree with Lafferty in her argument for a Gladue writer. In fact, there is currently a case heading to the NWT Court of Appeal that will centre around that fact.
Presently, Gladue factors are included in pre-sentence reports put together by a social worker. These voluntary reports are extensive examinations of an offender’s entire life, including any problematic upbringings.
And yes, many judges and Crown prosecutors appear to believe these reports contain all the evidence of Gladue factors that are needed for them to use as mitigating factors in determining a fit sentence for an Indigenous offender. A dedicated Gladue writer would help bring forward more information that the current system.
I appreciate Lafferty advocating for Indigenous people’s rights. But she also needs to be careful to present well-reasoned and fact-supported arguments in order to be heard and appreciated. She could also use a better editor, as the problems with the opening sentence should have been caught and fixed.
I’ve learned that the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in Canadian prisons began at the end of the Second World War. Measures taken since that in recent times to combat this issue clearly haven’t been working.
While Indigenous people are generally jailed at younger ages, are more often denied bail than other races, and can be released later in their sentences, the only true remedy is to prevent contact with the legal system in the first place.
To me, it comes down to proper housing, better social supports at early ages, better education opportunities and access to jobs.
The need for the NWT Justice Department to get its Gladue act together was played out in court in recent weeks.
In a decision in a domestic violence case released on May 8, a noticeably annoyed Territorial Court Judge Donovan Molloy stated the Crown did not speak to whether either of the victims were Indigenous.
When Molloy asked Crown prosecutor Andreas Kuntz that question, he didn’t know.
“While it was likely the victims self-identified as Indigenous, the Crown was unable to advise as to their status,” Donovan stated in his decision.
Molloy noted this information is of increased importance since September 2019, when Parliament amended the Criminal Code of Canada.
For the record, here are the two relevant sections:
- 718.04 When a court imposes a sentence for an offence that involved the abuse of a person who is vulnerable because of personal circumstances — including because the person is Aboriginal and female — the court shall give primary consideration to the objectives of denunciation and deterrence of the conduct that forms the basis of the offence.
- 718.201 A court that imposes a sentence in respect of an offence that involved the abuse of an intimate partner shall consider the increased vulnerability of female persons who are victims, giving particular attention to the circumstances of Aboriginal female victims.
Stated Molloy: “It would strain credulity to infer that the Crown considered these sections in formulating its sentencing position when the Crown has no information regarding the status of the victims. Section 718.04 is not discretionary, it requires that in such circumstances the court shall give primary consideration to denunciation and deterrence.”
So I noted with interest last week, when a different Crown prosecutor in a domestic violence case — facing Judge Molloy — took pains to note the victim “self-identified” as being Indigenous.
AND TO END, A FUNNY MAP
The Calgary professor who created this map likely didn’t realize how silly it would look without the three territories. Or maybe we’re getting an honest insight into the minds of Canadians in the south? Hmmm.