Manitoba Premier warned that lockdown measures violate Charter freedoms


WINNIPEG: The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms has warned Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister that the various lockdown measures that have been implemented in recent days are unwarranted and unconstitutional, and has called on Mr. Pallister to reverse the measures immediately.

A November 1, 2020 letter to Premier Pallister signed by Dr. Jillian Horton, Dr. Kendiss Olafson, and other Manitoba doctors, advocated for further and more extreme violations of people’s Charter freedoms. Manitobans’ fundamental Charter freedoms to move, travel, associate, assemble and worship are being violated by bans on social gatherings and restrictions on travel. Churches and religious services have been closed, businesses deemed by the government as non-essential are restricted to curbside pickup or delivery, and even essential services like grocery stores and pharmacies can only operate at 25% capacity. For the next four weeks, gyms, restaurants, libraries, museums, theatres and sports facilities have been shut down.

Of Manitoba’s population of nearly 1.3 million, as of November 12, there were 218 people in hospital and 32 in intensive care, in a province with a hospital bed capacity of 2,400 and an overflow capacity of an additional 1,000 beds. “It is profoundly troubling”, notes Justice Centre lawyer Allison Kindle Pejovic, “that these doctors are failing to consider the relevant context and are causing undue panic.”

In their letter the doctors spoke of a crisis, while health officials admit that COVID-19 patients are using less than 6% of Manitoba’s hospital beds. Fewer than 4% of all cases are people sick enough to require hospitalization. More than 96% of cases are people who are asymptomatic or only mildly ill. As announced by the Manitoba government in November, ICU capacity can be expanded by an additional 173 beds, and COVID-19 patients are currently using only 13% of the total ICU capacity.

Half of the latest deaths are from outbreaks at care homes or hospitals, where elderly residents are already in lockdowns. There have been a total of 123 deaths in Manitoba attributed to COVID-19 since March. More than 11,000 Manitobans die each year, more than 900 Manitobans die every month, and more than 200 die every week. The total deaths from COVID-19 in eight months has been less than the number of people who die in the province in a week from other causes. Why are these deaths considered less important, or less sad, than deaths caused by one virus?

The doctors suggest that the health care system will be overrun, a claim also made in March and April, which never materialized.

“To the contrary, Manitoba’s hospitals were largely empty from late March through to early May, because so many patients needing medical care were frightened away from hospitals,” notes Ms. Pejovic.

The predictions of Dr. Neil Ferguson, who claimed in March that millions of people would die of COVID-19, have been thoroughly discredited. These false predictions should no longer form the basis of public policy. The claims made in March and April, that COVID-19 threatens children, youth and healthy adults, have also been disproven.

These fearmongering doctors claim that the only solution is “decisive action by government.” Presumably by “decisive action”, they mean extraordinary, unreasonable impositions and violations of the civil rights of all Manitobans, even the 90% of whom have virtually zero risk of dying from COVID-19.

Indeed, the 10% who are vulnerable depend on the 90% of non-vulnerable Manitobans to sustain the health care system financially. “What is truly catastrophic are the harms which lockdown measures have inflicted on Manitobans, by way of deaths from cancelled surgeries, delayed cancer diagnoses, drug overdoses, suicides, and the economic devastation caused by thousands of businesses forced to close their doors and lay off employees,” explains Ms. Pejovic. Lockdowns have imposed serious harms on patients denied access to their physiotherapists, massage therapists, optometrists, chiropractors, osteopaths, podiatrists and dentists.

It is apparent that the Manitoba government must also consider the profound and significant consequences of the harms of lockdowns of healthy people, including increases in alcoholism, other addictions, family violence, and catastrophic mental health problems caused by forcing countless individuals into isolation and economic despair. Would these doctors be willing to give up their own public sector incomes, and instead depend on $2,000 per month in government benefits?

“Public health ought to consist of more than fighting one virus. All illnesses and conditions deserve appropriate attention and treatment, and who is to say that physical health is more important than mental health? This single-minded focus on COVID-19 ignores the sickness and death caused by other illnesses, which are preventable with proper medical care,” states Ms. Pejovic.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms places the onus on government to show that lockdown measures have, in fact, saved more lives than the number of lives which lockdown measures have destroyed.  The Charter does not place any burden on citizens to prove that lockdowns do more harm than good. Rather than locking down society and the economy with measures that clearly violate our most fundamental Charter freedoms, the Manitoba government is warned that the only legally justifiable measure is protecting the vulnerable, particularly the elderly.

“We advise the government to remove the remaining unwarranted Charter-violating policies that are destroying Manitoba’s society, economy, and citizen’s mental and physical health,” states Ms. Pejovic.

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