The Justice Centre has filed a legal action in the Court of Queen’s Bench challenging sections of The Public Health Act and Orders made by Manitoba’s Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. Brent Roussin, to end the violation of Manitobans’ Charter freedoms. The Justice Centre represents seven churches, Gateway Bible Baptist Church, Pembina Valley Baptist Church, Redeeming Grace Bible Church, Grace Covenant Church, Slavic Baptist Church, Christian Church of Morden, Bible Baptist Church, Minister, a deacon, the owners of a restaurant in Winkler, Manitoba, and an individual fined for exercising his Charter rights to peacefully protest at a rally in Steinbach, Manitoba.
The Justice Centre’s filed lawsuit alleges that Orders under The Public Health Act of Manitoba are outside of the authority of Manitoba, because law-making is in the exclusive jurisdiction of the Legislature.
The lawsuit also states that Manitoba’s lockdown measures are not justified violations of the Charter-protected freedoms of conscience, religion, expression, and peaceful assembly.
The action also contends that Manitoba and Dr. Roussin failed to consider the collateral social and health costs of locking down society.
The lawsuit claims that the PCR Test, the tool used to diagnose COVID-19 in Manitoba, produces unreliable and misleading data and that Manitoba and Dr. Roussin knew or ought to have known of this unreliability.
The legal action in Manitoba follows legal action filed against the Alberta government on December 4, 2020. The full hearing on the constitutional issues will be heard sometime in 2021. A date has not yet been set.
The Justice Centre has been inundated with hundreds of emails from people in Manitoba who are being financially ruined by lockdowns, suffering harm to mental health, losing their businesses, unable to see their elderly parents, and being denied critical health care for conditions other than COVID-19. The government has told stores what they can sell, and restricted the sale of items deemed Dr. Roussin as “non-essential” such as books, makeup, toys, and other everyday products.
Dr. Roussin has stated that pursuant to the public health orders, only household members are allowed indoors or outdoors on Manitobans’ own properties. “So you couldn’t have people over that are not household members in your garage, you couldn’t have them in the back for a fire,” he told CTV news on December 9, 2020. On December 8 the Manitoba government announced it had extended restrictions into the New Year on January 8, 2021, effectively cancelling any gathering with extended family over Christmas.
“Locking down the majority of a healthy society is not necessary to protect those most at risk from COVID-19. The lockdowns are devastating society on multiple socio-economic and constitutional levels, and harming the well-being of citizens,” states Allison Pejovic, Staff Lawyer for the Justice Centre.
“Politicians have not put forward any persuasive evidence that lockdowns have actually saved lives. At the same time, there is no question that lockdowns have caused grave harm to millions of Canadians suffering unemployment, poverty, cancelled surgeries, suicides, isolation and the loss of their liberty,” states Ms. Pejovic.
“The scale of the government’s infringement on Canadians’ Charter-protected rights and freedoms as a result of Manitoba’s response to Covid-19 is unprecedented,” continues Ms. Pejovic, “It is past time that the constitutionality of these restrictions and prohibitions are adjudicated by a fair and impartial court that looks at facts and evidence.”
The full hearing on the constitutional issues was heard in June 2021.
On October 21, 2021 Chief Justice Joyal of Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench released his decision upholding lockdown policies. The first Decision held that the authority given to Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin was constitutional. The second Decision held that the Manitoba Government’s lockdown restrictions were justified in their violations of the Charter– freedoms of conscience, religion, expression and peaceful assembly. Chief Justice Joyal also found that there had been no unconstitutional violations of the Charter rights to liberty, security of the person, and that there was no violation of equality rights on lockdowns that saw stores restricted to selling only goods the government deemed essential and churches closed for worship.
At 292 of the decision by Chief Justice Joyal, he stated, “In the context of this deadly and unprecedented pandemic, I have determined that this is most certainly a case where a margin of appreciation can be afforded to those making decisions quickly and in real time for the benefit of the public good and safety.”
He added, “…determination of whether any limits on rights are constitutionally defensible is a determination that should be guided not only by the rigours of the existing legal tests, but as well, by a requisite judicial humility that comes from acknowledging that courts do not have the specialized expertise to casually second guess the decisions of public health officials…”
An appeal is being considered.