Kenney challenged on unscientific and arbitrary violations of Charter freedoms

May 19th, 2020

 

CALGARY: The Justice Centre has issued a legal warning letter to Alberta Premier Jason Kenney over his government’s arbitrary and unscientific treatment of houses of worship compared to restaurants and bars.

“There is a glaring difference between treatment of restaurants and bars, and treatment of houses of worship, when it comes to the permissible numbers of people, social distancing, the service of food, the requirement to record the names of Albertans who enter the building, the spacing of cars, and other important issues,” states lawyer and Justice Centre president John Carpay.

The Alberta government’s regulations for restaurants and for houses of worship are reprinted below.

When Alberta’s restaurants, cafes, pubs and bars re-open, they cannot exceed 50% capacity, but there is no limit to the number of customers allowed in at one time. So, a large restaurant that seats 300 people can still serve 150 customers at a time.

In contrast, houses of worship must reduce attendance to 50 people or one third (not 50% like restaurants) of normal worship service attendance, whichever is smaller. This means that a large temple that seats 1,000 or 2,000 people must still limit its attendance to only 50 people.

“Why are churches and mosques limited to 50 people when large restaurants can host 100 or 200 people?” asks Carpay.

Under Alberta’s relaunch regulations, diners at restaurants can sit together at the same table, even if they are not from the same household.  In stark contrast, worshipers from differing households are required to maintain six-foot social distancing “at all times,” unless they live in the same household.

“Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, has been saying for more than nine weeks that six-feet social distancing is as a life-saving necessity. Why is it suddenly fine for six restaurant patrons from six different families to sit side-by-side, one or two feet apart?  Where is the science to support a completely different standard for churches?” continues Carpay.

Houses of worship are told they cannot provide “cooked food, open food, or beverages.”  This attacks the central and long-standing Sikh tradition and practice of feeding all people, Sikhs and non-Sikhs alike, who come to the temple.

“Why is it not good enough for a Sikh temple—and other houses of worship—to adhere to the same standards that are imposed on restaurants?” asks Carpay.

Restaurants will see dozens or hundreds of unrelated strangers come and go every day, seven days a week. In contrast, most houses of worship have gatherings once per week, but are largely empty the other six days.

The Alberta government will also continue to ban communion, also known as the Lord’s Supper: “Services must not include sharing food or beverages. Services must not include any contact between congregants such as hand shaking or the sharing of communal items (e.g. communion chalice).” Restaurants serve food on plates that have been touched by at least several people and then carried through the restaurant past other patrons before being placed in front of the customer. In contrast, in Catholic churches the priest is the only person who touches the communion bread prior to its distribution directly to the communicant.

“Why is Jason Kenney preventing Catholics from receiving communion, which is the focal point of their faith, when restaurants can serve food to customers from different households who are seated together at the same table?” questions Carpay.

The Alberta Government demands that if houses of worship host “drive-in” services, “[v]ehicles should be separated by a minimum of two metres.” No such requirement is imposed at Tim Hortons drive-throughs, where staff serve hundreds of customers every day, handing food and beverages to cars that are very close to the serving windows.

“Social distancing is a crucial life-saving measure, or it is not. Why single out houses of worship with this requirement?” points out Carpay.

The Alberta Government now directs houses of worship to “keep a listing of congregants who were present for services” and “maintain an up-to-date contact list for all staff and volunteers, including names, addresses and phone numbers.”

“Stores, restaurants, pubs, cafes, and bars do not have to inform the Alberta government about who their patrons are, let alone ask patrons for their addresses and phone numbers.  Why should houses of worship be any different?” asks Carpay.

“Only in a police state is the government interested in tracking and recording the activities and movements of citizens,” the lawyer notes.

The Alberta Government also prohibits social gathering before and after worship services: “Social activities (e.g. communal dinners, lunches) outside of services are not permitted.”  In contrast, restaurants are permitted to serve dinners and lunches every day, serving far more food to far more people than houses of worship do.

“If the government’s goal is to ‘reduce the spread,’ why are restaurants permitted to serve food while houses of worship may not?” says Carpay.

“In the course of a ‘gradual’ re-opening, which the Alberta Government claims as its goal, what is the rational and scientific basis for all these differences?  At best, it appears that they are explained by a philosophy or worldview that sees restaurants as far more important than churches. At worst, these differences are an expression of anti-religious sentiments, and a dismissal of people’s essential need to worship and practice their faith,” concludes Carpay.


Alberta government guidelines for houses of worship

It is critically important that places of worship understand the potential for spread within their congregation and take steps to minimize the risk of spread and the impacts of COVID-19 on some high-risk populations. Places of worship should also follow the Workplace Guidance for Business Owners. Worship leaders are encouraged to continue to hold services remotely and using other creative mechanisms such as drive-in services.

All places of worship should follow the public health guidance below and review their programming and worship services to keep everyone, especially the most vulnerable, safe.

COVID-19 Risk Mitigation Supporting Congregants’ Safety

· Staff, visitors and congregation should use the self-assessment tool before attending. · Offer multiple services and opportunities to worship to reduce the attendance to 50 people or one third of normal worship service attendance, whichever is smaller and whichever ensures physical distancing will be maintained. · Staff, visitors, and congregation should be provided information on the requirements for operation and the importance to prevent the spread of COVID-19. · Consider posting signs indicating COVID-19 physical distancing protocols. · Physical distancing must be maintained between people who are not from the same household at all times. · Staff, visitors, and congregation may choose to wear non-medical masks, however, it is not required if physical distancing is maintained at all times. · Infants and children should remain with their parents or guardians at all times. Nursery/children’s church is not permitted. · Individuals not from the same household should be reminded to maintain physical distancing when returning to vehicles or homes. · Consider having cohort families, whereby two cohort families sit together with sufficient spacing between them and other cohort family pairs. Supporting Staff and Religious Leaders · Religious leaders should support COVID-19 prevention activities, procedures, and education. · Staff and volunteers should be given information and training about appropriate physical distancing, processes, and hygiene practices. · Staff should wear appropriate PPE if they are unable to maintain 2 metres of separation from congregants. Facilities · Control and stagger entry into facilities. · Congregant lineups should be reminded of the importance of physical distancing. This should be clearly marked to prevent congestion. · Organizations should maintain a single point of entry and a separate point of exit. · Hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol content must be available at facility entrance and exit and available throughout the venue. · Congregants should be reminded to clean their hands on entry and exit. · Develop and implement procedures for increasing the frequency of cleaning and disinfecting of high traffic areas, common areas, public washrooms. · Frequently clean and disinfect high-touch/shared surfaces such as: doorknobs, light switches, toilet handles, faucets and taps, elevator buttons, railings. · Facilities should be cleaned and sanitized at least once between services. · Seating should be arranged or marked (in case of pews) to ensure social distancing. · Facility rental programs should be suspended if they cannot adhere to gathering restrictions.

COVID-19 INFORMATION GUIDANCE FOR PLACES OF WORSHIP
alberta.ca/BizConnect Email: BizConnect@gov.ab.ca ©2020 Government of Alberta | Published: May 2020

Cultural and Religious Practices · Services should not include providing cooked food, open food, or beverages. · Services must not include sharing food or beverages. · Services must not include any contact between congregants such as hand shaking or the sharing of communal items (e.g. communion chalice). · Social activities (e.g. communal dinners, lunches) outside of services are not permitted. Singing · Congregational singing is a high-risk activity and is not allowed. Infected people can transmit the virus through their saliva or respiratory droplets while singing. Consider soloist music or piano/guitar offertories as an alternative. · While there is no evidence of exactly what a safe distance would be to prevent transmission from someone singing, if one or two people are singing as part of a live streamed or recorded service, factors that would reduce risk would be having the singers face away from others, or having barriers (e.g. Plexiglass) that separate those singing from each other and any others, and ensuring that there are no individuals with chronic medical conditions or those over 65 present. · Note that if the singers are members of the same household, risk mitigation between them would be unnecessary. Drive in Services · Drive-in services may be held in designated parking lots or staging areas, and must meet the following conditions: o Event organizers must have measures in place to keep people from leaving their vehicles at the service. o Vehicles should be separated by a minimum of two metres. o Where washroom access is provided, frequent cleaning and disinfection must occur. o People leaving their vehicles to use the washrooms must maintain a minimum of two metres of separation from others at all times. Support for Public Health · To enable management of cases through contact tracing and follow-up, keep a listing of congregants who were present for services. · Maintain an up-to-date contact list for all staff and volunteers, including names, addresses and phone numbers.

Alberta government guidelines for restaurants, bars, cafes and pubs
GUIDANCE FOR RESTAURANTS, CAFES, PUBS, AND BARS alberta.ca/BizConnect Email: BizConnect@gov.ab.ca ©2020 Government of Alberta | Published: May 2020

Overview This document should be used to support operators in reducing the risk of transmission of COVID-19 among guests and workers in restaurants, cafes, pubs and bars. Operators should also follow the Workplace Guidance for Business Owners and are required to follow the Food Regulation and Food Retail and Foodservices Code. Contact your local Public Health Inspector with Alberta Health Services for more information. COVID-19 Risk Mitigation Dining Areas · Restaurants, cafes, pubs and bars must operate at no more than 50% seating capacity. Outdoor patio seating areas must also be at 50% capacity or less. · Arrange tables and chairs so that a 2-metre distance is maintained between each dining party. · Aisles should be wide enough to allow room for people to maintain physical distancing. Consider using one-way traffic flow help maintain distancing. · Physical barriers should be installed where tables cannot be adequately separated. For example, heighten barriers between adjoined booths. · Businesses should facilitate ways to prevent infection transmission, such as: o The use of dividers between booths or tables, o Setting limits on the number of patrons per table, based on size. A maximum number of patrons sitting together at larger tables should be 6. o Removing chairs. · Remove table condiments and other frequently touched items (for example, salt and pepper shakers, ketchup, hot sauce). · Consider keeping music to a low volume to help customers avoid leaning in to hear each another. Entry and Waiting Areas · Control access to the dining area, by asking guests to wait to be seated. · Ensure that customers have space to maintain physical distancing in waiting areas. · Encourage table reservations to prevent lineups. · Where possible, ask guests to wait outside until their table is ready, and use technology to provide notice that a table is ready. · Encourage guests to wash their hands or use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol content when entering and leaving. Facility · To maintain awareness, post COVID-19 signage throughout the facility. · Washroom capacity must allow for distancing between guests. For example, consider closing alternate urinals. · Thoroughly sanitize each table after customers leave. · Washroom sanitation and supervision should be enhanced. · Staff should perform hand hygiene frequently. COVID-19 INFORMATION GUIDANCE FOR RESTAURANTS, CAFES, PUBS, AND BARS alberta.ca/BizConnect Email: BizConnect@gov.ab.ca ©2020 Government of Alberta | Published: May 2020 Service · All dining must be table service only. · Wait staff and servers who cannot be protected by 2 metres of distance or a physical barrier must wear a cloth or surgical mask. · Digital ordering devices, check presenters and other common touch areas must be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected after use. · Where reusable menus are used, thoroughly clean and sanitize between clients. Paper menus must be discarded after use. · Use rolled silverware and do not preset tables. The person performing this task must follow hand hygiene practices. · There can be no buffet service or self-service. · Guests dining inside the restaurant must order food and drinks from the table. · Continue to follow existing occupational health and safety (OHS) requirements. Quick Service and Take Out · Demarcate floors with physical distancing markers in areas where line-ups occur. Keep line-ups away from dining areas. · Provide signage and guidance to guests regarding ordering and mobile orders. Amusement · Facilities are open for dining, delivery and take out only. Recreational activities within bars, cafes, or pubs are not allowed at this time. This includes dancing on dance floors, VLT play, billiards, pool tables, karaoke, shisha, hookah and water pipes, and other activities.