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A Halifax woman says a neighbour called the police on her in a misguided attempt to enforce self-isolation of her and her family.

We are granting her anonymity because she fears going public will bring more unwelcome attention to her situation.

I spoke to her on the phone Monday evening. She told me that Monday afternoon, she was playing with her young child in her backyard. Her mother came out and asked to use her phone; that’s because her mother doesn’t have a phone. The police were at the front door but said they could only speak via phone, apparently for fear of contracting COVID-19.

The backstory: The woman’s mother had travelled back to Canada from California, landing in Guelph on March 13. Premier Stephen McNeil’s order that all international travellers self-isolate went into effect on March 16. The woman’s mother, however, had difficulty lining up flights, and wasn’t able to fly from Guelph to Halifax until March 20. McNeil’s order that all people travelling from other provinces must self-isolate became effective March 23.

Even then, the woman’s mother kept mostly at home. Since her mother’s arrival back home, “we didn’t go anywhere at all, the whole family, not to the grocery store, not to the gas station, not anywhere, except for walks on the sidewalk,” she said.

The woman felt that in these difficult times, it would be a good idea for people to create a sort of “outdoor art gallery,” by putting decorations in their front windows so people walking by on the sidewalk could get a little joy.

“I printed up some flyers, and we went by door-to-door and used a little piece of tape to attach the flyers to people’s front door so we didn’t have to touch their mailboxes,” the woman told me. Her mother came along for the walk, but never touched the flyers and stayed on the sidewalk as the woman went up to the houses to tape the flyers.

When the police arrived, they told the woman over the phone that she and entire family must stay inside the house for 14 days from the date of her mother’s arrival (March 20). “They told me we couldn’t go in the backyard, we couldn’t leave the house. And if they got a call that we had left the house, we’d be fined $1,000.”

That order from the police contradicts the official orders about self-isolation from the province. To begin with, the mother’s date of arrival to Canada predates the order for self-isolation for international travellers, and the mother’s arrival in Nova Scotia predates the order for isolation for inter-provincial travellers.

More to the point, however, even if the mother had been restricted by those orders, the orders do not apply to the rest of the family unless the traveller is sick or has tested positive for COVID-19.

Dr. Robert Strang’s order for self-isolation for international travellers reads:

Effective March 15, 2020, all persons residing in or present in the Province of Nova Scotia who travel or have travelled outside Canada must self-isolate or self-quarantine, as the case may be, in accordance with Clause 3 (a.) to (d.) on the day you return to Canada.

Strang’s order for self-isolation for interprovincial travellers reads:

Effective March 23, 2020 at 6:00 a.m., all persons residing in or present in the Province of Nova Scotia who:

  1. 3.1.  enter Nova Scotia; or
  2. 3.2.  are identified as a close contact of a person who has or has been diagnosed with COVID-19; or
  3. 3.3.  are identified as a person diagnosed with COVID-19; or
  4. 3.4.  have been tested for COVID-19 and are awaiting the results of their test

(a.) Remain in self-quarantine or self-isolation, as the case may be, for:

(i) the period commencing on the day you enter Nova Scotia if you have crossed the border into Nova Scotia as per 3.1, or
(ii) the first day of close contact, or first day of symptoms, testing, or diagnosis as per 3.2, 3.3 and 3.4.,

and continuing thereafter for 14 consecutive calendar days or as directed by a medical officer of health.

Also, here’s how Stang described the requirement for self-isolation:

It doesn’t mean that they have to stay in their home. If you’re in self-isolation just because of travel and you’re feeling well and you don’t have any symptoms, you can still take your dog for a walk, go for a bike ride, take your kids to the park.

What’s really important is that people are separating from each other. You don’t have to stay 24 hours a day behind your door in your home.

To recap: because her travel predated the effective dates of the orders, the woman’s mother is not subject to either the order to self isolate because of international travel or the order to self isolate because of interprovincial travel. And even if she was covered by those orders, because she isn’t sick and hasn’t tested positive for COVID-19, the orders would have allowed her to walk around the neighbourhood and would have placed no restrictions at all on the rest of the family, beyond what apply to the public generally (social distancing, gathering in groups of five).

So why are Halifax police getting every element of this wrong?

“We will not be commenting specifically on an individual case,” responded Cst. John McLeod, who speaks for the Halifax Regional Police Department. “But what we can say is that with the enactment of the State of Emergency for Nova Scotia, we continue to work closely with the Nova Scotia Department of Health and Wellness to obtain greater clarity on measures contained within the directives issued by the Chief Medical Officer. Additionally, in cases of defiance of self-isolation or quarantine, we will be working with public health on a case-by-case basis.

“This continues to be a very fluid situation to which we are all adapting as best and quickly as we can,” continued McLeod. “Our overall approach continues to be to use a combination of education and enforcement as necessary. We know that most citizens are doing what they should to protect themselves and others from the Covid-19 virus, and we encourage them to continue doing so.”

In the province’s daily news briefings, Dr. Strang has repeatedly urged the public not to weaponize COVID enforcement. As I wrote yesterday:

Several times over the past week Strang has been asked about it himself, and each time, he’s been careful to say we should not shame people or name people publicly. He says instead that we should be of generous spirit, see if they are not self-isolating due to some circumstance in their life, and offer to help.

As for the woman who spoke with police yesterday, she said she has an idea who called in the complaint against her.

“He was just out of the country himself,” she said.

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Tim Bousquet is the editor and publisher of the Halifax Examiner. Twitter @Tim_Bousquet Mastodon

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  1. and yet some people think that people would behave normally if the people who have tested positively were named. There would be lynch mobs forming and people would be hanged in their own front yards!

  2. Blessed Day

    Like most Nova Scotians, I was not thrilled to see people thronging to Point Pleasant Park or standing cheek by jowl in the corner store to get ice creams last weekend. I tweeted about it. But would I call the police? No. We are taking these measures to look after one another. This means reaching out. It means offering to help. Do we really want to live in a police state?

    Under His Eye