An employee at a Nunavut gold mine is in hot water after joking about infecting the Arctic territory with the novel coronavirus.
The territory is doing everything it can to keep the global outbreak from breaching its borders, and remains COVID-19 free.
It’s something its chief public health officer says is not a laughing matter.
“Like many people, I was very uncomfortable and less than happy with that post,” said Dr. Michael Patterson.
“I did see the original Facebook post, and was upset by it.”
The employee, who was identified to APTN News as being from Quebec, alleged on Facebook that Agnico Eagle-Meliadine mine in Rankin Inlet was not screening workers.
“Just got back home today from camp,” the man said in a conversation with an Inuk screen-grabbed and shared with APTN.
“Ok. Did the workers get tested before going to work?” the friend asked.
“Nop,” the employee replied. “So the coronavirus is ganna spreand all over Nunavut Lol (sic).”
To which his friend replied: “That ain’t funny.”
The employee told APTN via Facebook Messenger he had “no comments for now, and thank you.”
Patterson, in a briefing with media Monday, said the employee apologized and retracted the statement, explaining it as “an inappropriate joke.
“This is not an appropriate subject to be joking about at all,” Patterson added.
Nearly 40,000 people have died from the virus as the pandemic circles the globe.
Vulnerable and isolated communities like Nunavut, particularly with Indigenous peoples, are at greater risk of contracting the infectious disease.
That’s why the territory has closed its borders and ordered anyone seeking to enter to spend two weeks in an outside hotel at its expense.
That’s also why residents of Rankin Inlet stopped a planeload of Quebec workers from entering the mine, about 25 km north of the community, on March 18.
Patterson said the mine has altered its schedule to minimize traffic and reinforced security to ensure no staff are going into town.
Agnico spokesperson Marie-Pier Beaucage said the employee has been disciplined for violating the company’s social media policy.
“In regard to the recent social media posts, we have been in direct contact with the individual, who is employed by one of our contractors, and we understand from him that he was not serious in what he had posted,” she said in an email.
“Agnico Eagle has confirmed the facts of the situation and the company has taken disciplinary action. We won’t comment more than that.”
The company also apologized and offered more information on its Facebook page.
“You may be aware of some inappropriate messages posted to several community Facebook pages last night,” the post said. “The following statement and apology has now been posted by the individual’s employer in response to this situation.
“We sincerely apologize for any unrest this may have caused and wish to reassure you that ensuring the health and safety of our employees and all Nunavummiut is of critical importance to us.”
The man worked for Tangmaarvik, an Inuit-owned branch of Outland Quebec.
Tangmaarvik also apologized “for the inappropriate comment regarding COVID-19 made by one of our employees and posted on social media.
“Operating in collaboration with Agnico Eagle Mines, we are aware and well informed of all the preventive measures that were implemented from the start to prevent from COVID-19 on Agnico Eagle sites in Nunavut,” it said on Facebook.
They were trying to calm the media storm that surrounded the comment online on the weekend, which became another flashpoint in questioning why resource and mega-projects continue to operate during the outbreak while other parts of society are shut down.
Agnico said on its website it was ramping down production after the Quebec government ordered all non-essential businesses to close.
But that’s not the case in Ontario, the Prairies or B.C., where manufacturing, mining and oil industry work continues.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked Monday why the government-owned Trans Mountain oil pipeline project was still operating.
He promised to release more information about that Tuesday.
Manitoba NDP-MP Niki Ashton said she hoped Trudeau showed “national leadership” Tuesday and announced “a mandated shutdown.”
She said the “patchwork” approach by different provinces wasn’t working and continued to put vulnerable communities like remote and under-resourced First Nations at unnecessary risk.
“Mining is not an essential service at this time,” she said in a telephone interview.
“Unless you’re supplying to manufacture ventilators.”
With files from Kent Discroll
UPDATE: This story has been updated to reflect contact with the employee.