By Jensen, Randy on May 15, 2020.
The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms will be taking Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro and the Government of Alberta to court to challenge the UCP’s Bill 10, which gives sweeping powers to cabinet ministers to pass laws without legislative oversight in the province in a public health emergency.
“There are a number of concerns we have regarding the provisions of the Public Health Act,” admits Justice Centre litigation manager Jay Cameron. “That legislation is in some cases a number of decades old, and it has some very sweeping provisions that have never faced constitutional challenge and scrutiny. And then there are our concerns with Bill 10.
“Bill 10 gives (cabinet) ministers the ability during a public health emergency to create new law, and there are very few limits on what they can do.”
Cameron says a recent ministerial order from Shandro, justified under Bill 10, allowed the Chief Medical Officer to release medical records of those diagnosed with COVID-19 directly to police.
“The Minister of Health (Shandro) has recently created new legal provisions which allow for the Chief Medical Officer to release citizens’ information to police,” explains Cameron. “Those provisions are new, they contain few safeguards, they raise a lot of questions about whose information is being transmitted, and how long it can be held for, who can access it, when it is destroyed, and what purpose can be made of it. Constitutionalism in Canada empowers legislatures to make law. It does not empower individuals to make law for millions.”
Shandro justified it by saying it would help police to know for sure whether an officer has been exposed to COVID-19 when a suspect coughs intentionally or otherwise uses their bodily fluids to assault police by using the threat of COVID-19.
Cameron says that reasoning for potentially releasing thousands of Albertans’ personal medical records to police represents a vast overreach on Shandro’s part.
“That’s like a warrantless search on Albertans, and there is no precedent for it,” he says. “It appears to be overbroad and unnecessary. Whoever drafted this order did a very poor job of it.”
Cameron says the same potential for ministerial abuse exists if Bill 10 is used to justify other orders. He compares the risks of the bill to the provisions of the War Measures Act which allowed a cabinet minister in Ottawa during the Second World War inter tens of thousands of Japanese Canadians, steal their property and dictate to them where they can live by the stroke of a pen.
“You have to go all the way back to that shameful mark on Canadian history to see similar legislation,” he says. “There is no need for what they have done. Other provinces are dealing with COVID-19 without suspending and avoiding legislative checks and balances. So why does the Minister of Health know more than the legislature sitting in full assembly? There is no good answer to that.”
“The fact is this law is an opportunistic way to take power and pass laws without checks and balances.”
The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedom has been making headlines lately for taking up the cases of other Albertans who have been found in violation of the Public Health Act related to COVID-19, including a church group which wanted to do a drive-in service and were ticketed by police, and other protesters who assembled at the legislature and were ticketed by police.
Cameron says Albertans have not given up their constitutional rights just because we are currently in a pandemic.
“There is no doubt the virus exists,” he says, “so people who deny the virus exists, they are living in an alternate reality. There is no doubt there is a virus and you can contract it. But the fact is the government has shut down Canadian society, and they have dramatically infringed civil liberties. And it is on government to justify those measures.”
“I don’t think for a moment if you can go to Walmart and observe social distancing protocols, that you can’t also gather in front of the legislature and observe social distancing protocols while you let your voice be heard,” states Cameron.
He says similarly a church group in a parking lot, when you see the masses gathering at Walmart or Superstore parking lots, should not be punished for coming together in a way which observes social distancing protocols while engaging in their constitutional right to worship.
“I think government needs to say, ‘our first job is to protect peoples’ liberties as much as possible,”- he states. “If we want to get through this pandemic together, with peoples’ trust intact regarding the government, then the government needs to start respecting civil liberties and stop making arbitrary rules.”
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