'I'll do whatever I have to': N.S. Premier Iain Rankin doubles down on lockdown
Premier says he's not backing down on lockdown rules — even if they limit individual rights
Nova Scotia's Premier Iain Rankin says he'll continue to use every legal means available to stop the spread of COVID-19 in the province — even if the effort ends up limiting individual rights.
The province obtained a court injunction Friday to halt a protest against its lockdown measures — which include keeping the border closed to non-essential travel and people attempting to move to the province, along with hefty fines for anyone caught travelling outside the zone in which they live.
"I'll do whatever I have to do that's within the confines of the law and the public health emergency that we have in place to keep Nova Scotians safe," Rankin told CBC's The House in an interview airing Saturday.
"I recognize that people really value their freedom, freedom of expression. And I believe in all those things. But you can't take away the freedom for individuals to be able to live in a society where they're not fearful of contracting COVID."
The injunction prevents a group called Freedom Nova Scotia from staging a planned protest rally today. The court order also authorizes police to use reasonable force in arresting anyone who takes part in one of these protests.
Nova Scotia introduced tighter restrictions last week after a sudden, sharp increase in positive COVID-19 cases. It was a dramatic change in a province where the reported daily number of new cases had been in the single digits for months.
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association wrote the premier this week to say that closing the border to the rest of the country violates mobility rights guaranteed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
"The Charter requires that when governments restrict rights, they do so in a manner that is minimally intrusive," wrote association director Cara Faith Zwibel. "In the current circumstance, self-isolation can be effectively paired with testing requirements to mitigate risk. Completely excluding Canadians from the province is neither necessary nor appropriate."
Travellers were ignoring quarantine: Rankin
Rankin isn't backing down. He said it's clear that some people were ignoring the mandatory 14-day quarantine for visitors entering the province.
"So we took it to the next step and we had to lock our border down," he told The House. "We didn't want to take that step and it is causing disruption in the lives of people and families. We needed to do that, though, at the first of this outbreak in the Halifax Region."
As of Friday, the province had more than 1,530 active cases of COVID-19 and 21 patients in intensive care.
Nova Scotia has one of the lowest vaccination rates among the provinces; only about 38 per cent of Nova Scotians have received their first doses. That pace has picked up in recent days and everyone in the province aged 35 and older is now eligible to be vaccinated.
A fact sheet put out by the province on Friday shows the impact of the third wave. It said it's responsible for 58 per cent of the total COVID-19 cases reported since March 1, 2020. The total number of COVID hospitalizations (both ICU and non ICU) is now 103; it was just 12 during the second wave last fall.
The race between the vaccination effort and new variants is playing out right across the country. Those variants include the B117 strain first identified in the United Kingdom. It's now predominant in Nova Scotia and other provinces, most of which remain in lockdown.
There is a glimmer of good news.
WATCH: Dr. Theresa Tam discusses Canada's second pandemic summer
Canada's chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, said Friday that the increase in vaccine supplies means that every Canadian who wants a shot should be able to receive a first dose by June.
She added that anyone who's had at least one dose can socialize outdoors with close friends and family over the summer.
It's a cautious approach. Its success or failure will depend on how well each region or community does in containing the virus.
The situation in the four Atlantic provinces suggests that isn't going to be easy, even if people continue to limit social contacts outside their homes, wear masks and wash their hands thoroughly.
The Atlantic Bubble — which limited travel within the region to people living in the region — had kept cases down. Rankin said the fact Nova Scotia is experiencing the third wave now is a sign that everyone needs to remain vigilant.
It's also why the restrictions he's imposed — including closing the border to other Canadians — likely will stay in place past their original expiry date of the end of May.
"We need to make sure that we're watching what's happening in other provinces," he said. "And until we get this third wave under control, we won't be looking at the border situation, I'm comfortable in saying. Not for a number of weeks."
It's an important political decision in a province that calls itself Canada's Ocean Playground and depends heavily on tourism revenues.
"But public safety is number one," Rankin said. "The best economic policy is a strong public health policy."