Alberta tables report on government response to COVID, urges protection of Charter rights and freedoms

Alberta's Public Health Emergencies Governance Review Panel stressed the need to strike a balance between protecting residents from harm and defending their Charter rights and freedoms.

Alberta tables report on government response to COVID, urges protection of Charter rights and freedoms
The Canadian Press / Darryl Dyck and The Canadian Press / Adrian Wyld
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Alberta's Public Health Emergencies Governance Review Panel has tabled its final report into the province's mismanagement of the COVID pandemic.

Panel chair Preston Manning delivered over 90 recommendations for consideration Tuesday after being asked by Premier Danielle Smith in January to undertake a detailed review of the Public Health Act and its implementation.

"The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting global turmoil was unprecedented," he said. "Alberta, like the rest of the world, had to make decisions quickly and with limited, changing and even conflicting information."

Drawing upon the expertise and research of advisors and contractors commissioned for the study, the Panel arrived at a series of conclusions and recommendations for the Alberta Government to consider, including the need to strike a balance between protecting residents from harm and defending Charter rights and freedoms.

According to a government news release, the mandate of the Panel did not include an overall inquiry into the government’s response to COVID, but to recommend changes and additional legislation to better prepare the province for future public emergencies.

"Amend the Alberta Bill of Rights and Alberta’s Employment Standards Code and Health Professions Act to protect the rights and freedoms of all Albertans, including workers and healthcare professionals, and the freedom of expression during public emergencies," it recommended.

In addition, the Panel reinforced improving the focus and performance of the province in responding to public health emergencies.

"Reject provincewide school closures as a policy option in responding to a provincewide public emergency, except in the most exceptional of circumstances, and then only for the shortest possible period of time," said the release, among other recommendations.

The panelists include Michel Kelly-Gagnon (President Emeritus of the Montréal Economic Institute), The Honourable John C. (Jack) Major CC KC (Former Supreme Court of Canada Justice), Preston Manning, PC CC AOE (former MP for Calgary Southwest and Leader of the Opposition in the House of Commons), Dr. Jack Mintz (president’s fellow of the School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary and a distinguished senior fellow of the MacDonald-Laurier Institute), Dr. Martha Fulford (Infectious Disease Specialist and Retired Chief of Medicine, McMaster University), and Dr. Robert Tanguay, Psychiatrist and Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Surgery at the Cumming School of Medicine).

"For the credibility of the study and our final recommendations, I felt it was important to select panelists and advisors with varied areas of expertise and perspectives on the key issues," said Manning. "For that reason, while there were certainly differences of opinion, I am thrilled that we were ultimately able to arrive at a consensus on the recommendations put forward."

"It is my hope that by adopting these recommendations, the Government will be better equipped to cope with future emergencies, and that the impacts on Albertans – their personal livelihoods, civil liberties, and mental health can be mitigated to the greatest extent possible," he added.

This is a developing story.

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