Rankin Inlet’s council appeared to be eying a potential April end date to its proof-of-vaccination bylaw at the Feb. 28 council meeting.
The discussion was triggered from a delegation by resident Kevin Sanguin, who presented council with a legal opinion from an Alberta law firm that declared the hamlet’s bylaw “unconstitutional because it is overbroad, disproportionate and arbitrary.”
The Crosson Constitutional Law opinion went on to say that the bylaw constitutes a disproportionate limitation under Section 1 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and breaches human rights law.
It noted that the two exceptions to the bylaw – which bars access to hamlet facilities and programs to people 12 and older who are not fully vaccinated – were to attend a vaccine clinic and make a payment or apply for a program.
“There’s no alternative way to comply with the bylaw, such as proving natural immunity or by engaging in regular testing,” wrote Crosson Constitutional Law.
Sanguin, a 34-year resident of Rankin Inlet, said he is fully vaccinated and boosted but the bylaw means his unvaccinated sons – 13 and 16 – cannot enter the arena.
“I have two small boys who can’t go to the arena or any other thing that the hamlet does because they’re not vaccinated,” he said.
Sanguin went on to say he respected council and how the local government handled Covid from the start, but said the council could now lead in making changes and asked the hamlet to revoke the bylaw.
“What we’re losing now by the restrictions is more than what we’re gaining,” he said. “Covid’s here and we have no choice but to learn how to live with it. We don’t have the luxury of saying if we separate everyone, that we’re going to overcome Covid. That turns out not to be true.”
That delegation led to an open discussion on the bylaw later in the meeting.
Coun. Justin Merritt said he has read lots of legal opinions but if he was going to change his mind about the bylaw, it would be “because of the people in the community,” not this legal opinion, noting the hamlet wasn’t being sued.
“I still have the conviction that we did the right thing and should continue to do the right thing,” said Merritt, suggesting that the hamlet continue the proof-of-vaccination bylaw through March and look at potentially ending it in April with a new season and new fiscal year.
He added that part of the intention of the bylaw originally was to open up activities in the community, but the Government of Nunavut put a damper on that with its territory-wide gathering restrictions just before Christmas.
Coun. Lynn Rudd agreed, saying the hamlet hoped to run more games during Christmas, but the GN “tied our hands up.”
Even if the bylaw were removed, she added, the territorial government could come up with new restrictions anyway. She agreed with Merritt to take a measured approach in watching what happens with new information and which way the territorial government decides to go.
Senior Administrative Officer Darren Flynn echoed some of those challenges in balancing community objectives with territorial mandates, saying it can be hard to get information out of the GN about what direction they’re going.
“There is a real strong lock on how the GN manages its communications and how it communicates directly with local governments,” he said.
Coun. Daniel Kowmuk said he would be happy to reconsider the bylaw for April but wanted to keep it while case counts were still fluctuating.
“The way I look at it, our bylaw made a huge difference,” he said.
Coun. Kelly Lindell said, “We really have to look at moving forward away from the bylaw,” noting the number of unvaccinated people in Rankin Inlet was quite low.
“The rest of Canada is moving forward in opening up their doors and somewhat getting back to normal.”
She said she was okay with waiting a month but was edging toward the line of wanting to take away restrictions.
Mayor Harry Towtongie expressed perhaps the most concern with the bylaw at the meeting, asking, “Can we just revoke this bylaw and just do what the CPHO says, because that’s what we’re doing anyway?”
He said the bylaw was “creating enemies in our community” and felt like it was hurting some of the young people.
Flynn noted that the bylaw would take three readings to revoke, though that could be done through special meetings and wouldn’t necessarily mean waiting for three regular council meetings to end it.
If the GN ends the state of emergency, that would immediately end the bylaw as well.