Tool van owner apologizes for 'ruckus' after crossing NWT border

A travelling mechanic tools salesman says he's sorry for causing a "ruckus" by crossing the border from Alberta to the N.W.T., in what the territorial government says was a misunderstanding.

Residents of Hay River began posting photos of a Mac Tools-branded truck to Facebook on Wednesday, questioning its presence in the community with the border closed to almost all traffic.

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"With the rumour mill, I guess I had it in the back of my mind that there were cases [of COVID-19] in the area where he was from," said resident Mark Rowe of the driver and his Alberta-plated truck.

The tool truck concern was raised in the legislature by Hay River South MLA Rocky Simpson on Thursday, who complained that an Alberta tool salesman was allowed to enter the territory while a local salesperson – offering the same products – was "sitting at home because he is following our rules."

Diane Thom, the health minister, told Simpson the case sounded "very disturbing to me" and promised to look into the incident.

Cabin Radio reached the La Crete, Alberta-based owner of the tool truck by phone on Thursday evening.

Andrew Driedger, 63, said he had applied for a permit to enter the Northwest Territories and received approval. He said Mac Tools had told him he qualified as an essential service.

"I hope I didn't cause a whole bunch of ruckus and stuff," Driedger said.

"[The territorial government] sent me a letter and they approved it for 90 days. And I gave it to them guys at the border, they phoned somebody, and they said, 'Yup, it's all good to go.'"

Driedger added he did not get a warm welcome in Hay River, where he was told he was not supposed to be there.

He worries he will now no longer be allowed to come north, and hopes he will be forgiven for any perceived transgression.

"[The border letter] states where I stay at night and what I'm supposed to do after I'm done working, that I'm not supposed to be around town," he said.

"I'm supposed to stay in my room and all that. And that's what I did."

'The officers believed he was a trucker'

The N.W.T.'s pandemic restrictions include a closure of the territory's borders to incoming traffic, with the exception of residents and essential workers or services, like healthcare workers or supply trucks.

Mike Westwick, a spokesperson for the territorial government, said Driedger was allowed into the territory due to confusion over the activities described in his paperwork.

Westwick said an exemption was issued for Driedger as officials thought the sales representative was a supply truck driver.

After complaints were received on Thursday, a compliance officer located Driedger and let him know he needed to return to Alberta immediately.

“At the checkpoint, the representative presented a self-Isolation plan to the officer operating the checkstop,” Westwick said.

“The officers believed he was a trucker as indicated on the form and let him pass. The public health officer accurately implemented the public health order based on this understanding.”

Although the compliance officer did contact Driedger, he says he had already decided to make his way back to Alberta after getting a cool reception in Hay River.

“This morning I only [tried to sell to] a few shops, that's it, until I found out that I wasn't supposed to be there,” Driedger said by phone on Thursday.

“Oh, they wanted me out of town so bad. So I left town.”

Government to review incident

News of an Alberta tool salesman in Hay River frustrated Wyatt Scheller, a distributor for Snap-on Tools who lives in the community.

Scheller told Cabin Radio he has lost a lot of business due to the pandemic and the closing of the border, which stops him doing business in Alberta.

“I sell tools to all the mechanic and automotive shops,” he said. “I would go down to La Crete [and] 80 percent of my business is in Northern Alberta too.”

Scheller said he could probably apply for paperwork to cross the border and come back, but the restrictions – which include a mandatory two-week self-isolation period on his return – mean there isn’t enough time to make it worth the travel.

“I can assure you we’re taking this extremely seriously,” Westwick said of residents' concerns.

“We are reviewing the incident to learn some lessons and prevent similar ones from happening again as we work to keep this territory safe.”

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