Nfld. & Labrador

She was denied entry for her mother's funeral. Now she's taking the N.L. government to court

A woman originally from Newfoundland and Labrador is launching a constitutional legal challenge against the province's COVID-19 travel restrictions after she was barred from attending her mother's funeral.

Lawyer Rosellen Sullivan says government has left no choice but to go to court

Kim Taylor says the recent provincial government decision denying her entry into the province following her mother's death has exacerbated her grief. (CBC)

A woman originally from Newfoundland and Labrador is launching a constitutional legal challenge against the province's COVID-19 travel restrictions after she was barred from attending her mother's funeral.

"People who are grieving the loss of a loved one, such as a mother, father, sister, brother, a child, should not be subjected to this level of cruelty by a government entity," said Kim Taylor, whose mother died last Tuesday.

Eileen Taylor died of natural — non-COVID-19-related — causes on May 5, at home. A sudden and traumatic passing made worse, her daughter said, by a provincial government decision to deny her access to her home province to honour her mother's life.

With the backing of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and local defence lawyer Rosellen Sullivan, Taylor will bring the challenge to the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador on Tuesday.

"It's happening, frankly, because it seems to be the minister of health's attitude that if you don't like it, sue us," said Sullivan. "Well, it appears this is our only option at this moment."

Eileen Taylor died of natural causes on May 5. (Submitted by Kim Taylor)

Kim Taylor lives in Nova Scotia but says she visits her home province several times a year. She began the process to return less than 12 hours after the death of her mother, and immediately devised a plan to self-isolate upon arrival.

She submitted an exemption form online requesting access to the province, and sent another followup later that day to ensure the request was received.

"When someone dies, there are certain things of a time-sensitive nature, and my goal was to get to the province as soon as possible to get into isolation," Taylor said.

By end of day Friday, Taylor received the email she was waiting for, with the decision she was not expecting.

"Basically 'condolences, you're denied,'" she said. "'You are not permitted.'... It blatantly laid out, 'You are not permitted to enter Newfoundland."

"It's difficult enough grieving your mother and trying to figure out logistics of everything, but then to wait 3½ business days ... I was absolutely devastated all over again."

Charter challenge

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association, a non-profit group in Canada devoted to the defence of civil liberties and constitutional rights, has already raised concerns over Newfoundland and Labrador's amendment to Bill 38 — the Public Health Protection and Promotion Act.

The controversial amendment was passed in the House of Assembly on the day Eileen Taylor died. It gives power to police to detain individuals found in non-compliance with public health orders, with the possibility of removing people who are not primary residents from the province entirely, among many more sweeping powers. 

A government public health order prohibits entry to the province to anyone except those travelling for work, relocating for work, and primary residents. Some exceptions can be made for those travelling to Newfoundland and Labrador for the purposes of taking care of health needs of a family member.

During Friday's public briefing, Premier Dwight Ball said the province has received over 2,000 exemption requests and public health officials are "very busy turning them around very quickly."

Numbers from May 4 to 9 showed far more exemptions were granted than denied.

Eileen Taylor, originally of Little Heart's Ease, Trinity Bay, is being remembered as a loving wife, mother and grandmother. (Submitted by Kim Taylor)

"I love my home province. I am a Newfoundlander through and through," said Taylor. "I don't feel like the province has let me down but I certainly feel like the government has let me and my family down."

Where's the justice minister?

Sullivan has questioned where Justice Minister Andrew Parsons has been in the discussion over Bill 38, given the broad justice implications.

The Civil Liberties Association wrote a letter to Parsons this week with its concerns over the amendments, noting the new rules only came into place seven weeks after a health state of emergency was called, and that the number of COVID-19 cases is quite low.

"The attorney general hasn't even acknowledged [the letter], let alone responded to it," Sullivan said. "Where is the attorney general? Where is the minister of justice?"

On Friday afternoon, a spokesperson with the department said the minister had responded to the letter Friday.

Sullivan is prepared to argue that the travel ban caused an unjustifiable breach of Taylor's charter rights.

Earlier this week, Daina MacNeil spoke to CBC News about being denied access to the province to attend her mother's funeral.

St. John's defence lawyer Rosellen Sullivan will represent Kim Taylor in Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

Her exemption, however, was granted after speaking publicly.

Sullivan said the guidelines for who gets in and who doesn't appear to be arbitrary.

Asked about guidelines Friday, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald said exemptions are granted for those who have lost a loved one, if they have a self-isolation plan.

Taylor said she's taking a page out of her mother's book and is doing what she would have done in the same circumstance.

"My mother was determined and she was fierce and she would say, 'Do what you need to do to make this right.'"

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Anthony Germain

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