In a border crossing described as a misunderstanding, a travelling salesman from Alberta recently entered the NWT and his presence caused a stir in Hay River.
Some people were surprised and upset to see a Mac Tools vehicle in the community considering the border restrictions imposed because of the Covid-19 crisis.
The GNWT’s Compliance Enforcement Taskforce was made aware of the presence of the truck and contacted the salesman, but he had already decided to depart the NWT voluntarily.
“I told them I was going to leave,” said Andrew Driedger of La Crete, Alta. “I said I’ll leave before it gets into too big of an uproar.”
Driedger had been denied entry onto a property at one stop in Hay River, and his presence in town was being discussed on Facebook.
“Once social media gets going, where does it stop?” he said.
Facebook comments from community residents described the presence of the salesman from Alberta in a number of ways – unbelievable, an insult and some chose colourful terms.
Driedger had applied for and received permission from the GNWT to cross the border.
“Then I went to the border and gave them a copy of my letter and they phoned the health link once more and everything was 100 per cent,” he said. “I got the go-ahead to go, so off I went.”
Driedger entered the NWT on May 26 and travelled to Fort Smith and Hay River, before heading back to Alberta on May 28.
Mike Westwick, manager of communications for the Covid-19 response with the Department of Health and Social Services, described the incident as a misunderstanding in the way the salesman described himself when applying for permission to enter the NWT.
“It’s a clear case of misunderstanding,” Westwick said. “There was no malice here on either side, and I think that our Compliance Enforcement Taskforce took the appropriate action as soon as the situation was brought to their attention. It all ended well.”
Westwick explained the salesman described himself as a supply chain trucker in his application, which is a category that can obtain special permission to cross into the NWT for 36 hours without having to self-isolate.
“Obviously, the description provided on the self-isolation plan submission wasn’t an accurate description of the activity within the NWT,” he said.
Westwick said such misunderstandings happen, especially when dealing with new processes.
There will be a review of the incident.
“Any time that anything happens that shouldn’t have happened we do a very serious review of it,” said Westwick. “These incidents have been few and far between in this process of enforcing the public health orders. But we do take them really, really seriously when they do. We’re reviewing the incident right now to learn some lessons and prevent that from happening in the future. Obviously, our number one priority right now is keeping the territory safe.”
The presence of the travelling salesman in Hay River was raised in the Legislative Assembly on May 28.
Hay River South MLA Rocky Simpson cited it as one example of concerns about border security on Highway 1.
“Last evening, I received a call concerning a person who arrived in Hay River and was visiting job sites, attempting to sell mechanic tools,” said Simpson. “I was informed this individual was from Alberta and entered the NWT as an essential service. In Hay River, we have businesses that sell tools. We have a retailer that has his own truck filled with tools that is sitting at home because he is following our rules.”
The MLA said the people of Hay River and the South Slave want answers on the level and quality of security the territorial government is delivering at the border.
Health and Social Services Minister Diane Thom said she found the incident cited by Simpson to be “very disturbing,” and she committed to looking into the matter.