Supreme Court strikes down outdoor protest bans

VANCOUVER, B.C. – A pandemic restrictions protest organizer in Dawson Creek will not have to pay his fines. Th…

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VANCOUVER, B.C. – A pandemic restrictions protest organizer in Dawson Creek will not have to pay his fines.

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF) filed a constitutional challenge on behalf of three churches and four individuals against restrictions on public protest and the ban on in-person church services on January 8th.

The British Columbia Supreme Court decided the Public Health Orders banning outdoor protests unjustifiably violate the rights and freedoms of BC residents as protected by the Charter, and are thus unconstitutional, according to a release.

One of these individuals is Alain Beaudoin of Dawson Creek, who was ticketed for organizing public protests in December. He says the measures handed down by the government were unnecessary and draconian, contradicting what is permissible in a free and democratic society.

Beaudoin was ticketed for contravening the Gathering and Events Order for protests on December 1st, 5th, and 12th.

JCCF’s Marty Moore explains that as a result of the case, those tickets do not need to be paid.

“The government itself admitted that they had no evidence justifying a prohibition on outdoor protests. So with the striking down of that order, those tickets are based on a law that no longer exists,” says Moore.

Moore says his office has been contacted by many Canadians during the pandemic.

“We’ve had hundreds of Canadians, probably more like thousands now, but hundreds of B.C. residents reach out to us regarding tickets or the effect the lockdown measures are having on them and their Charter Freedoms. Mr. Beaudoin’s case was one where we took it on, not only challenging the tickets he’s been issued but also challenging the law under which they were issued.”

The result is the signal of a long road ahead with court challenges, says Moore.

“There’s so many government violations of individual freedoms across the board, not just protesters, but the freedom to gather at an outdoor market, freedom to engage in collective sports activities. For individuals seeking to exercise their freedoms in the safest manner that they can, I still perceive plenty of court challenges down the line.”

Moore says the courts have sided with “government actors” regarding COVID-19 restrictions, but he expects this to shift in the coming months.

“As these things are very fundamental and important constitutional rights, these decisions will be appealed and will be examined in higher courts. I would anticipate that some of these decisions will also be appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada as well.”

For churches, Chief Justice Hinkson found that provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry’s orders infringed the freedoms of religion, speech, assembly, and association. Still, he ruled that such infringements are justified. He ruled that Dr. Henry was not required to be correct in making her orders, only that she had looked at a reasonable number of alternatives.

Since the March 18th decision, the provincial government has announced that the public health order banning gatherings and events has been amended to allow for indoor religious gatherings between March 28th and May 13th. Faith leaders will have four days within the time frame to hold services, and they are limited to 50 people or 10 per cent capacity, whichever is less.

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