A judge said she would rule later Monday whether to grant a temporary injunction against some of Alberta’s public-health orders.
Calgary Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Anne Kirker heard arguments from lawyers representing two southern Alberta churches and three individuals to pause the measures and “save Christmas.”
The current restrictions limit Christmas celebrations to individual households, restrict weddings and funerals to 10 people and prohibit outdoor gatherings.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announced the stricter rules nearly two weeks ago to try to bring down stubbornly high COVID-19 cases and to ease pressure on hospitals.
Lawyer Jeff Rath told the judge she probably never thought she’d “have the power to save Christmas.”
“And that’s certainly what we’re asking you to do today.”
Rath said there is not any real proof that Canada is in the middle of a pandemic and that Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, isn’t an expert on COVID-19 since the province doesn’t seem to know where most of its infections have come from.
“This is not polio. This is not smallpox. This is not the Spanish flu. Healthy people are not dying from COVID-19,” he said.
“Government has not provided the evidence that these orders will prevent harm.”
Because of the province’s health measures, public attendance at the courthouse was limited. The hearing was available to view online and more than 350 signed on to watch.
An occasional angry outburst caused a number of warnings from the judge and some spectators were removed from the website.
Nick Parker, a lawyer representing the Alberta government, said Hinshaw has the authority as the province’s top doctor to take action to keep the public safe.
“What I would suggest we are seeing is democracy in action in the middle of the biggest health crisis in the history of this province. And it is what law-making looks like when we are at the most critical point in that crisis,” Parker said.
“Justice Kirker, I think you can imagine what will happen to this province and the health-care system if the key message from the chief medical officer of health is not heeded.”
Hinshaw has explained several times at her briefings that she makes recommendations on how to fight the spread of COVID-19, but it is up to the government to make a decision on what public-health measures to bring in.
James Kitchen, a lawyer for the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, told court that the restrictions violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and were imposed without consultation or review.
He said the rights and freedoms of Albertans to show affection and care for each other at this time of year has been “systematically dismantled over the last nine months and not by a virus but by the government overreach in reaction to the virus.”
Kitchen also said locking down 4.5 million Albertans and not allowing them to celebrate with each other during Christmas would cause irreparable harm.
“That would be a traumatic memory for the rest of Albertans who live through this, particularly for grandparents for whom this may be their last Christmas with their grandchildren,” he said.
“That’s not trivial.”
Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press