A court challenge of Alberta’s COVID-19 pandemic public health restrictions is set to get underway Monday in a Calgary court room, in what the group involved calls an attempt to “save Christmas.”
Alberta is currently under a second state of public health emergency. The most recent set of public health measures restrict both indoor and outdoor social gatherings and all dine-in services at restaurants and bars. A 15-per-cent capacity limit has also been imposed on retail services.
The court challenge — presented by Rath & Company, Barristers and Solicitors, retained by Freedom Corp., and the Justice for Constitutional Freedom — is seeking a temporary suspension of some of the health measures.
The group alleges the restrictions are “incarcerating 4.5 million Albertans in their homes for Christmas,” without evidence to justify the orders.
The group accuses the government of “bankrupting businesses and stripping citizens of Alberta of most of their rights under the Alberta Bill of Rights and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms” with “arbitrary” health orders.
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The new health orders were imposed in response to days of ever-increasing COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations, ICU admissions and deaths in the province, with Premier Jason Kenney saying it was imperative the province protect Albertans as well as the health care system.
“If stronger action is not taken now, we know that hundreds, or potentially thousands more Albertans could die,” Kenney said on Dec. 8.
The government has repeatedly said evidence points to social gatherings as the largest source of transmission in the province.
Alberta’s test positivity rate has also grown significantly in the past two months, hovering around eight per cent in recent weeks, compared to about 1.34 per cent in October.
“It is clear on the evidence before the court that the only tools being utilized by the chief medical officer of health to manage the COVID-19 outbreak in Alberta are extreme restrictions of human rights, while she crosses her fingers for the speedy delivery of a vaccine,” lawyer Jeffrey R. W. Rath said in a news release about the injunction.
As part of the challenge, the lawyers presented evidence to the court that suggests American treatments that have significantly reduced COVID-19’s mortality rate have been “ignored by Alberta Health Services.”
“It now falls to the courts to decide if one unelected doctor can prevent millions of healthy Albertans—who are at almost no risk from COVID-19—from deciding for themselves whether to celebrate Christmas with their families in their own homes,” states Justice Centre lawyer James Kitchen.
Hinshaw has explained several times at her briefings that she makes recommendations based on an analysis of numbers and the rate of spread of COVID-19, but it is up to the government to make a decision on what public-health measures to bring in.
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AHS has been expanding hospital and ICU capacity across the province for weeks in response to the increasing admissions and severe cases of the illness.
The government has maintained it has the capacity and staffing to care for any Albertans who need to be treated for COVID-19 in hospital.
Global News has reached out to the government for comment. This story will be updated when a response is received.
— With files from Global News’ Allison Bench, The Canadian Press
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