Saskatchewan judge rules pandemic restrictions on outdoor gatherings were justified

'Rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Charter are not absolute,' wrote the Court. 'Section 1 states they are subject to ‘such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.’'

Saskatchewan judge rules pandemic restrictions on outdoor gatherings were justified
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The Saskatchewan Court of Appeal has upheld pandemic restrictions on outdoor gatherings, dismissing appeals from protesters who were fined $2,800 each for violating a public health order that restricted outdoor groups to 10 people.

“The disease was novel and it was serious,” wrote Justice Jeffrey Kalmakoff. “The government needed to act.”

“Rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Charter are not absolute,” wrote the Court. “Section 1 states they are subject to ‘such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.’”

From the onset of the pandemic, Saskatchewan's chief medical officer issued six distinct orders spanning a 16-month duration, imposing varying limits on outdoor gatherings. These restrictions ranged from maximum group sizes of 10 people to 30, 50, or 150 before ultimately being lifted altogether in 2021.

“At the time the 10-person outdoor gathering limit was imposed the Covid-19 situation in Saskatchewan had become particularly dire,” wrote Justice Kalmakoff. “The disease was spreading exponentially. New variants that were highly dangerous and difficult to manage were emerging. Vaccines were only in the development stage and would not become widely available for some time.”

The petitioners contended that there was no evidence showing that the order effectively curbed the spread of the disease. However, Justice Kalmakoff deemed this argument irrelevant and dismissed it.

“The government was not required to prove outbreaks actually occurred at the gatherings to establish a rational connection,” wrote the Court. “All it needed to show was that there was a reasoned and logical basis to conclude that imposing restrictions on the number of people who could gather outdoors might contribute to achieving the goal of preventing, reducing or controlling the spread of COVID-19.”

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms brought the lawsuit forward on behalf of two demonstrators who were fined for participating in a lockdown protest in Saskatoon on December 19, 2020.

A trial judge in 2022 highlighted that, at the time, Saskatchewan had the highest infection rate in the country, with 143 cases per 100,000 population, and emphasized that no vaccine was available yet, reports Blacklock's.

“The government’s objective in imposing outdoor gathering limits under public health orders was to control the transmission of COVID-19,” wrote the Court of Appeal. “To state the obvious, gatherings bring people into proximity whether they take place indoors or outdoors.”

Saskatchewan ended the pandemic with the third highest Covid death rate of 170 per 100,000 population behind to Québec (226 per 100,000) and Manitoba (177).

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