According to a court ruling, Alberta's then-chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw contravened the Alberta Bill of Rights and Charter of Rights when implementing COVID health measures.
Justice Barbara Romaine's decision on Monday articulates that while Hinshaw is "informed and well-qualified," she lacked the legal authority to implement the restrictions. The final decision-making power rested solely within Cabinet and elected-member committees.
"Although Dr. Hinshaw was maligned during the pandemic and afterwards as the symbol of the restrictions, she was not, in fact, the final decision-maker," wrote Romaine.
Some restrictions infringed on constitutional rights, whereas other infringements were "demonstrably justified" under the Charter because of the unprecedented public health emergency.
Romaine then said that the province's improper decision-making framework contravened Alberta's Public Health Act — nullifying any legal standing for the "justified" measures.
Monday's 90-page decision could alter the outcomes of several pandemic-related charges against parties accused of breaching public health rules, reported the CBC.
Chief among them is anti-lockdown rodeo organizer Ty Northcott, whose trial went on a hiatus pending Romaine's decision.
The plaintiffs — including two churches and a gym owner — filed the court action in December 2020, simultaneous to their emergency injunction, seeking to stay Alberta's COVID restrictions during Christmas.
At the time, then-premier Jason Kenney ordered the closure of casinos and gyms. He also banned social gatherings and imposed a mask mandate.
On December 21, 2020, Justice Anne Kirker refused to temporarily stay restrictions, stating the health measures protected the public's best interests.
However, the ruling prompted court deliberations that commenced in February 2022.
The plaintiffs argued that the virus did not kill younger, healthy people and suggested the government-imposed restrictions did more harm than good.
"The tensions between individual liberty and the greater good…is the heart of this case," said lawyer Leighton Grey in April 2022. He claimed the province "trampled" on Charter rights by not accounting for the overall impacts of their restrictions.
However, government Crown prosecutors argued the province experienced "democracy in action in the middle of the biggest public health crisis this province has seen."
They filed a 206-page affidavit on behalf of Hinshaw, leading to a cross-examination of the doctor spanning several days.
Hinshaw testified to the necessity of the restrictions while rejecting Grey's claim that the province based those restrictions on no actual data.
Grey capitulated that Hinshaw held "extraordinary" powers during the pandemic despite not holding elected office herself. She refuted the claim, stating that elected officials had the final say on her recommendations.
As of writing, the province has recorded more than 5,800 COVID-related deaths.