Canadian court strikes down COVID health rules that banned outdoor protests
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VANCOUVER, British Columbia, March 22, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) – The top court in the Canadian province of British Columbia (BC) has dismissed a legal challenge against the BC government’s COVID health order which bans in-person religious gatherings. The court, however, struck down a prohibition on outdoor protests.
The legal challenge was made by the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF) in the Supreme Court of BC
In January the JCCF announced it was filing a legal challenge on behalf of three churches and four individuals against the restrictions on worship services and public protest issued by the BC Chief Medical Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.
Shortly after filing the legal challenge, the BC government sought an injunction to try and close the churches that brought the legal challenge, before the case went to court. However, on February 17, the Court denied the government’s injunction request.
In his March 19 decision regarding the churches, Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson of the Supreme Court of BC stated that Henry’s orders did infringe on the applicant's fundamental freedoms of religion, speech, assembly, and association, but ruled they were justified.
“Although the impacts of the G&E Orders on the religious petitioners’ rights are significant, the benefits to the objectives of the orders are even more so. In my view, the orders represent a reasonable and proportionate balance,” concluded Hinkson.
“The religious petitioners have not satisfied me that they are entitled to challenge the G&E Orders on their judicial review under s. 2 of the JRPA. Even if they could do so, the infringement of their s. 2 Charter rights by the impugned G&E Orders is justified under s. 1 of the Charter. This part of their petition is thus dismissed.”
On Friday, Henry said that she was “thankful” that the court upheld her ruling banning religious services.
Regarding Henry’s orders banning outdoor protests, Hinkson ruled that they indeed did infringe on one’s constitutional rights and ordered them to be struck down.
“Mr. Beaudoin has persuaded me that his s. 2(c) and (d) Charter rights were infringed by the G&E Orders that predated February 10, 2021, and that the infringement of those rights by those orders cannot be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society,” ruled Hinkson.
“I declare that orders made by Dr. Henry entitled “Gatherings and Events” pursuant to ss. 30, 31, 32 and 39(3) of the PHA, including the orders of November 19, 2020, December 2, 9, 15 and 24, 2020 are of no force and effect as against Mr. Beaudoin as they unjustifiably infringe his rights and freedoms with respect to public protests pursuant to ss. 2(c) and (d) of the Charter.”
JCCF lawyer Marty Moore told LifeSiteNews that although the JCCF is pleased to see the court strike down the “Gathering and Events Orders’ prohibition on outdoor protests,” they were disappointed that the case against the ban on churches was dismissed.
“We represent many clients across the province who were issued $2300 fine for peacefully exercising their freedom to gather and protest government lockdowns. This decision is very welcome news for them, and for all others, who engage in this fundamental democratic right,” said Moore.
“We are obviously disappointed with the lack of scrutiny applied to the orders of Dr. Bonnie Henry banning in-person worship services, despite the acknowledgment that these orders violated the fundamental freedoms of our clients. We are reviewing this decision carefully and in all likelihood, it will be appealed.”
Moore told LifeSiteNews that while the BC court’s decision is “not binding precedent” it could, however, “influence” the JCCF’s other court cases on the go in Alberta, Manitoba, and Ontario.
“This decision is not binding precedent on other provinces, though it could be used to influence other courts if it is not successfully appealed,” said Moore.
Current restrictions outright ban all in-person religious gatherings of any kind in BC while allowing people to gather in malls, shops, and outdoor pools.
Just earlier in the week, Henry said that she was looking at “easing” restrictions on in-person worship in the province but gave no firm timeline. She said in November that she has “no time for people who believe that wearing a mask somehow makes them ill or is a sign of lack of freedom,” or for those who oppose vaccines.
In October, Dr. Stephen Malthouse, who practices family medicine in British Columbia, made headlines for writing to Dr. Henry and blasting the government’s COVID-19 lockdown policy.