Alberta prosecutors drop public health violation charges, which is ‘bittersweet’, pastor says | PKBNEWS

A Calgary pastor who decided to open his church despite public health orders that forced him to close services has won a bit of a stay in court.

He is one of many people who have their pandemic-related transgressions forgiven for a “technicality”.

Tim Stephens of the Fairview Baptist Church found charges against the church for multiple violations of public health orders in place during the early years of the COVID-19 pandemic were dropped this week.

It was the last of seven tickets served on him, most of which were either acquitted or withdrawn. But the final ticket provided for heavy fines.

“The numbers that were floating around, you know, tens of thousands of dollars that our church might have to pay. And so for that to finally be taken down, that’s a vindication for us,” Stephens told PKBNEWS.

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“It’s a bit bittersweet because even though the health orders were found to be illegal, they were actually illegal based on a technicality.”

This technicality stems from a recent ruling by Justice Barbara Romaine of the Court of King’s Bench in her July 31 decision in Ingram v. Alberta.

Romaine found that public health orders were made by elected officials and not by the Chief Medical Officer of Health, which was against Alberta’s Public Health Act.

According to the transcripts, then-CMOH Dr. Deena Hinshaw told the court that “the elected officials make the decision, and then the instrument that was used because of the nature of the emergency we were facing was the orders of the CMOH, implemented under the leadership of elected officials”.

Hinshaw also stated that “Orders are the legal instrument to implement cabinet policy decisions.”

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Lorian Hardcastle, a*sociate professor of health law at the University of Calgary, said the law makes it clear who should make decisions about public health orders.

“The Public Health Act makes it very clear that decision-making authority rests with the Chief Medical Officer of Health. And so (Hinshaw) delegating that power to the government was, unsurprisingly, found to be problematic by the courts,” Hardcastle said.

By the time Romaine’s decision was filed, all public health orders had been overturned by the Alberta government.

Over the next month, Alberta’s Crown Prosecution Service reviewed the decision and concluded “there was no longer a reasonable prospect of conviction on charges under the Public Health Act involving violation of the contested orders of the Chief Medical Officer of Health,” they said. in a report.

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On August 1, there were 14 tickets remaining before the courts.

Of the 745 charges brought before the courts, 562 were stayed, withdrawn or dismissed, eight were dismissed or found not guilty and 176 resulted in convictions.

Charges against Ty Northcott, whose family held a ‘No More Lockdowns Rodeo Rally’ near Bowden, Alta., in May 2021, have been stayed, along with charges against GraceLife Church of Edmonton and Pastor James Coates.

Hardcastle noted that the provincial government led by former Premier Jason Kenney had made changes to the Public Health Act since the start of the pandemic, but had not specified who had the authority to issue those orders.

“If (elected officials) wanted to be the decision-makers, they could have changed the law to become the decision-makers themselves,” she said.

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The health law professor said putting the right legal structures in place is part of pandemic preparedness, work that should be done before the next public health emergency.

“I hope this case sends the message to the government that it is time to review the Public Health Act and think about what they want the role of a Chief Medical Officer of Health to be, both in general and then in the field of public health. in an emergency, and make sure the law reflects what they want that role to be,” Hardcastle said.

— with files from The Canadian Press

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