County Health Officer Bonnie Henry.
The British Columbia Court of Appeal upheld a lower court’s ruling, saying the province’s restrictions on COVID-19 gatherings and events are constitutionally valid.
“The prohibition of personal gatherings of religious worship is within a range of reasonable outcomes and proportionately balances the appellants’ freedoms with the achievement of critical public health objectives,” the decision stated.
Most callers belong to churches and their leaders: Alan Bowdoin, Brent Smith, John Koopmans, John Van Moyn, Riverside Calvary Church, Emmanuel Covenant Reformed Church, and Chilliwack Free Reformed Church.
The Court of Appeal said: “There is absolutely no basis on record for the religious appellants’ assertion that personal worship services were prohibited, not because of the dangers they posed, but because they were religious gatherings.”
The defendants are: British Columbia and Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.
Group A challenged the March 18, 2021 decision by Christopher Hinkson, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of British Columbia.
It ruled that while banning personal masses in the church violated the Charter rights of British Columbians, it was “reasonable and proportionate” under Section 1 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
This section states: “The rights and freedoms set forth in it are guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms only to the extent reasonable in law and clearly justified in a free and democratic society.
The group demanded statements that the assemblies and ordinances of minors constitute an unconstitutional violation of their freedom of religion, expression, assembly, association, and equality because they could not gather for personal religious worship.
“[Hinkson]found that although the orders limited some of the petitioners’ constitutional freedoms, they were justified as reflecting a reasonable and proportionate balance between the protections in the Charter and the primary goals of public health,” the appeal decision said.
According to state court documents, one of the callers, Beaudoin, held public rallies in Dawson Creek in December 2020 and January 2021 for protesters opposed to pandemic restrictions.
He allegedly did so in violation of orders issued by the Public Health Bureau that effectively ban outdoor gatherings for public demonstrations. The court said he got two tickets.
The court noted that Baudouin’s appeal was “moot” given that the ban on outdoor protests was no longer in effect and any infractions had been suspended.
The appeals court said churches and their leaders defied orders Henry gave between November 19, 2020 and February 10, 2021 not to gather in person for religious worship. As a result, violations were issued. The application was filed January 7, 2021, with a hearing beginning March 1, 2021.
However, on January 29, 2021, the churches sought to reconsider the ordinances banning in-person gatherings for religious worship. On February 25, 2021, in response to the order, Henry amended his previous orders and permitted gatherings for weekly church services, outdoors, in person per the terms of the order.
But the appeals court said Hinkson found that Henry’s decisions, including those temporarily banning in-person gatherings for religious worship, were made under changing circumstances amid great uncertainty about the spread of the pandemic.
And she stressed that there are concerns about the most vulnerable groups and the ability of the health system to maintain the continuation of providing basic services that can save the lives of people infected with the virus or other diseases or serious diseases.
The Court of Appeal said: “It was found that there was a rational basis on which he (Henry) could distinguish between the risks of transmission associated with personal religious worship and other types of gathering.”
“The religious appellants failed to demonstrate that the (gatherings and events) orders violated their rights to equality,” Judge Gregory Fitch wrote in the appeal decision.
“Restrictions on gatherings also apply to similar religious and secular activities,” Fitch said. The secular choir was not able to meet in person like the church choir. »
Judge Bruce Butler and Judge Leonard Marchand agreed with Fitch’s decision.
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It remains to be seen how the appeals decision might affect the ongoing proceedings in class action testimony.
There, a lawsuit led by the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Science in Public Policy led by Kipling Warner is seeking to appeal and claim compensation for various measures, mandates and restrictions imposed in response to the pandemic.
Henry is named as a defendant in the suit.
Judge David Crerar hears claims of various types as well as evidence to determine if a class action lawsuit is an appropriate option for the case.
Plaintiff counsel Paulina Fortola and defense attorney Emily Laber told Crerar on December 16 that they had not had enough time to digest the appeal decision.