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May 25, 2020

Hon. Caroline Wawzonek
Minister of Justice
Government of the Northwest Territories
4093 49th Street, PO Box 1320,
Yellowknife, NT X1A 2L9

Re: Mobility Rights and Travel to the Northwest Territories

Dear Minister,

We are writing you regarding the constitutionality and impact of the Northwest Territories’ Travel Restrictions and Self-Isolation Protocol, set out in the Chief Medical Officer of Health’s Order dated April 27, 2020. The effect of this Order is to largely prohibit Canadians not resident in the NWT from entering the territory, with limited exceptions. In our view, the Order is contrary to section 6 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and may also be beyond the territory’s jurisdiction.  As the superintendent of the rule of law in the territory, you will have reviewed that order to determine its constitutional risks.  We are encouraging a second look at this Order, in light of the following.

Regarding mobility rights, pursuant to section 6(2) of the Charter, individuals may take up residence in any province and have the right to earn a livelihood in any province. Pursuant to s. 30 of the Charter, this right similarly applies to Yukon and the Northwest Territories. The mobility rights of Canadians are sacrosanct; not even the notwithstanding clause in the Constitution Act, 1982 can oust their application. The only derogations from section 6 that are permitted are those that can be justified pursuant to section 1 of the Charter, namely those that are both reasonable, and demonstrably justified. In our view, the territory’s current restriction on travel is neither.

We also have concerns about whether this kind of Order is ultra vires. Allowing one province or territory to dictate mobility rights does not appear consistent with the division of powers in the Constitution Act, 1867.

 The Travel Restrictions and Self-Isolation Protocol are complex, but it is clear that many individuals not normally resident within the NWT will be permitted to enter for reasons deemed “essential” and with varying restrictions in place on the social contact that they can have once in the territory. With respect, there is no evidence that a total ban on some individuals entering the territory can be justified when less restrictive measures could clearly achieve the same public health goals. Moreover, these harsh restrictions are in place at a time when the territory appears to have no active cases of COVID-19. In our view, the restrictions place on travel cannot be justified and must be rescinded.

We do not suggest that there is a one-size-fits-all solution to emergency management in Canada.  It goes without saying that the territories face unique circumstances and challenges and your approach must be suitably tailored. Each province and territory has adopted an emergency management approach that fits the particular public health and distinctive circumstances of the region.  But all must do so within the confines of the Constitution.

The CCLA is an independent, non-profit NGO, standing up to power and defending freedom in Canada since 1964.  We have appeared in courts across Canada hundreds of times, and have commenced litigation against governments during COVID-19 in other jurisdictions.  We would be grateful for the opportunity to discuss all this with yourself or your officials, and would appreciate your attention to this important matter.

Yours truly,

Michael Bryant
Executive Director

Cara Zwibel
Fundamental Freedoms Program Director

About the Canadian Civil Liberties Association

The CCLA is an independent, non-profit organization with supporters from across the country. Founded in 1964, the CCLA is a national human rights organization committed to defending the rights, dignity, safety, and freedoms of all people in Canada.

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