Calgary

Alberta's pandemic restrictions violate rights, lawyers argue in constitutional challenge

A two-week court hearing is now underway for a group of Albertans seeking to have this province’s public health measures deemed unconstitutional. 

Previous application to have stay of health measures denied ahead of hearing

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, has updated the public on COVID-19 restrictions since the pandemic started. A 10-day hearing is underway in a Calgary courtroom as a group of Albertans seek to have the province's public health restrictions deemed unconstitutional. (Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)

A two-week court hearing is now underway in Calgary for a group of Albertans seeking to have this province's public health measures deemed unconstitutional. 

The group's key arguments are that the virus does not kill younger, healthy people, also known as the "working well," and that the government-imposed restrictions do more harm than good. 

The applicants include two churches and a gym.

The lawyers are arguing their clients' constitutional rights — including limiting peoples' ability to gather for social and religious reasons — have been violated.

Lawyer Jeffrey Rath called Alberta's response to COVID-19 a "public health mismanagement crisis."

Young, healthy people not affected, says lawyer

Rath said COVID-19 is no more serious than a cold and argued that healthy people under the age of 60 are not affected by the virus.

"Children do not die from coronavirus," said Rath in his opening comments to Court of Queen's Bench Justice Barbara Romaine.

"These broad, sweeping public health measures that have been imposed on society are causing more harm to the bulk of our society than good."

'Democracy in action'

In December 2020, the same group tried to convince a different judge to issue a stay of the province's pandemic-related restrictions pending this hearing. 

In her decision, Justice Anne Kirker found the risk of transmission of COVID-19 to be real and refused to grant the emergency injunction, ruling the health measures were in the public's best interests.

Nick Parker, a lawyer for the province, has not yet had a chance to make his opening statement or call evidence.

But during the December hearing, Parker argued the province was experiencing "democracy in action in the middle of the biggest public health crisis this province has seen."

Protests, blockades

This application takes place amid tense and ongoing protests in Ottawa, Windsor and southern Alberta against government-imposed restrictions and health measures.

The hearing began less than 48-hours after Premier Jason Kenney announced the almost immediate end to the vaccine passport program as well as a phased plan to eliminate all COVID-19 restrictions.

Starting Monday, masks will no longer be mandatory for children under 12 in any setting, and for students of any age attending school. School boards have been told they don't have the power to override the directive.

As of Wednesday afternoon, 1,615 people were in hospital with COVID-19, including 135 patients in intensive care.

Public health officials also reported 11 more deaths. Alberta has recorded 3,686 COVID deaths since the pandemic started.

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