Civil liberties group urges province to change wording of COVID injunction

·4 min read
Police made arrests at Citadel Hill in Halifax on Saturday for violations of the Health Protection Act. (Vernon Ramesar/CBC - image credit)
Police made arrests at Citadel Hill in Halifax on Saturday for violations of the Health Protection Act. (Vernon Ramesar/CBC - image credit)

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association is urging the Nova Scotia government to change a court order it received Friday regarding public protests during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a letter sent Monday to Premier Iain Rankin and Justice Minister Randy Delorey, the organization argues the order issued by a judge is "patently overbroad; a two-handed axe where a scalpel would have sufficed."

"We're concerned about the breadth of the injunction," said Cara Zwibel, the association's director of fundamental freedoms, in an interview.

"It really basically appears to prohibit all protest activity by anyone throughout the province until the state of emergency is over, which we don't know whether it will be weeks or months or perhaps longer until that happens."

Zwibel is the director of fundamental freedoms with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, a Toronto-based human rights organization.
Zwibel is the director of fundamental freedoms with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, a Toronto-based human rights organization. (Submitted by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association)

Zwibel said the province has the power to go back to court to request a different wording of the order.

If the province does not do so on its own, Zwibel said the association is prepared to hire a lawyer in Halifax to make an application to the court to amend the order. She did not have a timeline of how long that would take.

'Reasonable limits'

The Justice Department said in a statement the restrictions on public gatherings outlined in the injunction are appropriate given the current situation in the province, which recorded 90 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday.

"Nova Scotia is in a public health emergency. People have lost their lives. Many Nova Scotians are in hospital and a high number are in the ICU. Our collective responsibility is to keep everyone safe," said the statement Tuesday.

"People have a right to protest, but there are times when reasonable limits on those rights are necessary."

Two events

Halifax police broke up two large events over the weekend, including an anti-mask, anti-lockdown event that prompted the injunction.

The other event was a car rally in support of the Palestinian people. One woman told CBC News her roommate was ticketed for breaking public health rules while sitting in their car.

CBC News saw three people being arrested at a gathering on Citadel Hill over the weekend.
CBC News saw three people being arrested at a gathering on Citadel Hill over the weekend.(Vernon Ramesar/CBC)

In statements, police said both gatherings were illegal and pointed to the court injunction, stating its purpose is "preventing groups from staging illegal gatherings in defiance of Nova Scotia's public health orders."

Zwibel said the association wants to argue before the court there is a difference between events where organizers are attempting to comply with public health orders, and events where organizers are actively encouraging people to break public health orders.

Police ticketed multiple people under the Health Protection Act during a pro-Palestinian rally in Halifax on May 15, 2021.
Police ticketed multiple people under the Health Protection Act during a pro-Palestinian rally in Halifax on May 15, 2021. (Jeorge Sadi/ CBC)

"I think that those things, those differences, matter. And they demonstrate that there are ways to exercise the right to protest that can comply with public health guidelines and substantially reduce and mitigate the risk," she said, adding that outdoor gatherings come with a much lower risk of virus transmission.

Legal advice

Rankin said Tuesday he's comfortable with the legal advice that led the province to get the injunction, but he added it was meant to deal specifically with the anti-mask rally. He said if there are people who want to express their opinions they can still do that in a safe way.

Rankin says he is comfortable with the legal advice his government received in applying for the injunction last week.
Rankin says he is comfortable with the legal advice his government received in applying for the injunction last week. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

"If there are other expressions of demonstrations, they just need to follow the guidelines and stay within their unit. Wear masks. And they can express themselves that way," he said. "We're just asking for that for the month of May; we might be in a better place after that."

Halifax privacy lawyer David Fraser said there are cases where strong enforcement is appropriate, but it could be overused.

David Fraser is a privacy lawyer with the Halifax firm McInnes Cooper.
David Fraser is a privacy lawyer with the Halifax firm McInnes Cooper. (Dave Laughlin/CBC)

"Everything needs to be proportional to the risk," he said. "And if you remove the discretion of the police and you direct them towards enforcement, that's the tool that they're going to use. They tend to follow the rules that are put in front of them."

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