Canadian court strikes down public health order banning outdoor protests
By Ramon Tomey // Mar 25, 2021

The highest court in the Canadian province of British Columbia (BC) has struck down an order banning outdoor protests. The Supreme Court of British Columbia ruled on March 19 that the public health mandate put in place by the province's chief medical officer infringed on constitutional rights.


In his decision, Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson remarked that the orders infringing constitutional rights "cannot be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society."

Back in January, the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF) filed a legal challenge against health orders mandated by Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry. Representing three churches and four individuals, the JCCF opposed Henry's order banning worship services and public protests amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Shortly after the JCCF's filing, the provincial government sought an injunction to order the plaintiff churches be closed before the high court tackles the legal challenge. The court subsequently denied this request on February 17.

Hinkson's March 19 decision said that the gatherings and events orders issued by Henry encroached on the plaintiffs' constitutional rights. The chief justice pointed out one mandate in particular that banned public protests, saying that a rule banning this right "cannot be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society." Thus, Hinkson ordered the rule be struck down in his decision.

On the issue of in-person religious gatherings, the chief justice ruled that Henry's orders prohibiting them were justified. While Hickson acknowledged that the provincial health officer's mandates did infringe on fundamental freedoms, he argued that "the benefits to the objectives of the orders are even more [significant]." BC's top magistrate added: "In my view, the orders represent a reasonable and proportionate balance."

The plaintiffs' challenge against the ban on religious gatherings was subsequently dismissed.

Richmond News reported on March 19 that Henry was thankful for the chief justice's decisions. In a statement, she lauded Hinkson for his "thoughtful decision upholding public health orders in [regard] to religious gatherings."

Hinkson's decision appears to be a win for freedom, but not entirely

JCCF lawyer Marty Moore said his group was disappointed over the dismissal of their challenge against the religious gatherings ban. "We are obviously disappointed with the lack of scrutiny applied to the orders of Dr. Bonnie Henry banning in-person worship services, despite the acknowledgment that these orders violated the fundamental freedoms of our clients," he remarked.

Moore added that JCCF is "reviewing [the] decision carefully" and said they will very much likely lodge an appeal. (Related: Reporters are now stalking churchgoers to enforce COVID-19 mandates.)

On the other hand, the lawyer also lauded Hinkson's decision to strike down the public protest ban. "We represent many clients across the province who were [fined 2,300 Canadian dollars] for peacefully exercising their freedom to gather and protest government lockdowns. This decision is very welcome news for them, and for all others, who engage in this fundamental democratic right," Moore said.

Hinkson's ruling also vindicated Alain Beaudoin, one of the four individual petitioners in the JCCF legal filing. The Dawson Creek resident received a CA$2,300 (US$1,827) violation ticket after he helped organize a protest in December 2020. Beaudoin and others spoke out against the purported abuse of power by the government through COVID-19 mandates. However, the chief justice denied his petition to quash the violation ticket.

According to Moore, the Supreme Court of British Columbia's decision could influence other cases filed by the JCCF in other Canadian provinces such as Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario.

"The decision is not [a] binding precedent on other provinces, though it could be used to influence other courts if it is not successfully appealed," he commented.

Similar lawsuits have been filed in the U.S. against mandates banning religious gatherings. Back in October 2020, two religious organizations sued New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo for his order limiting the number of people that can attend gatherings inside churches and synagogues. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn and Orthodox Jewish group Agudath Israel of America challenged the constitutionality of the governor's order in their lawsuits.

According to the diocese's lawsuit, the restrictions ordered by Cuomo "targeted religious practice and violated First Amendment rights." Meanwhile, Agudath Israel slammed the governor's mandate as they deprived tens of thousands of people a chance to worship and observe Jewish religious traditions. The restrictions fell on Oct. 9 to 11 – which happen to be three Jewish holidays. (Related: Three Minnesota churches suing state government over executive orders dictating mandatory masks and social distancing in places of worship.)

Visit to read more about draconian COVID-19 public health mandates infringing on First Amendment rights.

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