REGINA: The Justice Centre has issued a warning to Saskatchewan’s Chief Medical Health Officer for violating the Charter rights of northern residents by imposing unreasonable restrictions on their ability to leave their communities.
The Chief Medical Health Officer issued a Public Health Order Respecting the Northern Saskatchewan Administration District, April 30, 2020 (the “Order”), which imposes strict travel restrictions in northern Saskatchewan. With some exceptions, the Order prevents residents of northern communities from travelling “outside the community in which their primary residence is located.”
The Order prevents northern residents from utilizing local forests, lakes and waterways to meet their needs for recreation, relaxation or solitude and benefit their mental and physical health. Under the Order, only individuals able to claim an Aboriginal right for doing so are permitted to venture out of their community to enjoy nature.
In a warning letter, sent to the Chief Medical Officer on May 8, 2020, Justice Centre staff lawyer Marty Moore writes:
“Northern Saskatchewan is blessed with vast forests and numerous lakes and waterways. These areas can easily be enjoyed by local residents while complying with social distancing protocols and avoiding encounters with others, negating any risk of transmission of COVID-19… It is unconstitutional for government to arbitrarily restrict citizens’ liberty of movement. This is especially so where when restricting liberty may cause unnecessary negative effects on citizens’ mental and physical health, without in fact reducing the risk of transmission of COVID-19.”
The Justice Centre has demanded that the Chief Medical Health Officer immediately amend the Order to allow northern residents of Saskatchewan to enjoy their local forests, lakes and waterways.
“Government restrictions on Canadians’ Charter rights must be rationally connected to pressing government objectives and minimally impairing,” states Mr. Moore. “This Order which prevents residents from enjoying local lakes and forests appears to fail both of those requirements and should be immediately amended.”
The Justice Centre continues to monitor potential violations of citizens’ rights and freedoms by local governments and band councils. Individuals seeking legal help are encouraged to contact the Justice Centre at https://www.jccf.ca/get-help/ for free legal advice or assistance.