On the heels of Rankin Inlet, the Hamlet of Arviat has now implemented a vaccine passport system for municipal buildings in the community.

“We went through what no other community in Nunavut went through,” said Mayor Joe Savikataaq Jr., referring to the Covid-19 outbreak in Arviat that stretched from fall 2020 to spring 2021. “We had the highest numbers in the whole territory, and it was six months of very hard lockdown measures that we followed. The community abided by everything that was asked of them.”

With that experience in mind, the hamlet decided to introduce a municipal vaccine passport system to further protect the safety of the community, the mayor said. The bylaw applies to everyone 12 and over. Unvaccinated people can still use hamlet services, but they need to book appointments ahead of time.

“No one’s being forced to get the needle,” said Savikataaq. “It’s just a way of keeping people safe. It’s not for control. It’s not to go after people. It allows us a little bit more flexibility on keeping our people safe.”

He compared it to rules around wearing helmets on snowmobiles in that people may not like the laws, but they exist for a reason.

Savikataaq said he hosted three radio shows to discuss the idea of a vaccine passport before the hamlet made the decision.

“Every caller was for it,” he said. “This wasn’t a standalone decision. The community decided that.”

However, it appears not every resident fully supports the new bylaw.

One community member, who chose to remain anonymous, said he finds the situation upsetting considering how high Arviat’s vaccination rate already is and how few cases there have been since the major Covid-19 outbreak. He reported that a youth had been denied access to the youth centre because of this new bylaw and expressed concern for mental health challenges the bylaw could impose.

“Nunavut has the largest suicide rate among teens in the entire nation, by a considerable margin,” said the resident. “The youth drop-in centre was opened to specifically give the youth somewhere to go after school hours. In a town of about 3,000 people in the middle of the Arctic, there are not many options for the youth here, so the few places they do have become even more important. It’s like the rug has been swept out from under them, at an age where they are trying to discover their place in this world. These children do not need more hurdles in life.”

He says he can see the arguments for the vaccine passport but worries the disadvantages of it may outweigh the benefits, saying it disrupts society at a time when people are already on edge.

“It also goes against everything the world was pushing towards just before Covid hit, with ‘my body, my choice’ being the headline for that movement.”

Those unable to become fully vaccinated due to medical reasons or any other grounds covered under the Nunavut Human Rights Act must make a request in writing for accommodation to senior administrative officer Steve England at sao@arviat.ca.

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