Dr. Hinshaw's answers to questions about cabinet discussions to be made public, judge rules

·2 min read
Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, was cross-examined in a Calgary court earlier this month by lawyers for a group of plaintiffs seeking a judge's ruling that pandemic-related restrictions were unconstitutional. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, was cross-examined in a Calgary court earlier this month by lawyers for a group of plaintiffs seeking a judge's ruling that pandemic-related restrictions were unconstitutional. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press - image credit)

A Calgary judge has ruled that details about confidential discussions between Alberta's Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw and cabinet regarding pandemic-related restrictions and recommendations can be made public.

A group of Albertans, including those involved with churches and gyms, launched a court challenge seeking to have public health orders ruled unconstitutional.

Earlier this month, Hinshaw was cross-examined on her 206-page affidavit filed as part of the court case, which details pandemic statistics, timelines and decision-making frameworks connected to public health restrictions imposed in the past two years.

Confidential cabinet discussions

Days into their cross-examination, questions from the plaintiffs' lawyers veered into confidential cabinet discussions.

"Can you tell us what recommendations you made to cabinet that were either ignored or you were given instructions opposite to your recommendations?" asked Jeffrey Rath.

Lawyers for the Government of Alberta objected and produced a document from Sonya Savage, then the justice minister, stating discussions between Hinshaw and cabinet must be kept confidential.

Savage wrote that disclosing the details of cabinet discussions "could impede the free flow of future cabinet discussions, thereby negatively impacting the democratic governance of the Province of Alberta."

Judge asks 3 questions

Court of Queen's Bench Justice Barbara Romaine proposed asking Hinshaw three questions in a private hearing before deciding whether to make the answers to those questions public and part of the hearing evidence.

The questions were:

  • Did the premier and cabinet … ever direct you, Dr. Hinshaw, to impose more severe restrictions in your CMOH orders than you had recommended to them?

  • Did cabinet ever direct you to impose more severe restrictions on particular groups such as churches, gyms, schools and small businesses than you had recommended to them?

  • Did you ever recommend to cabinet that restrictions should be lifted or loosened at any period of time and that recommendation was refused or ignored by cabinet?

Province likely to appeal ruling

On Tuesday, Romaine issued a seven-page decision ruling "the public interest in disclosing Dr. Hinshaw's answers to the questions posed by the court outweighs the public interest in keeping the evidence confidential."

"This is an important case involving the constitutionality of CMOH orders that the plaintiffs allege infringed their Charter rights," wrote Romaine.

Romaine also noted that the questions and answers do not reveal disagreements among ministers, the views of individual ministers or the specifics of her recommendations.

"A determination of whether or not cabinet directed Dr. Hinshaw to impose restrictions more rigorous than her recommendations or targeted more specifically on specific groups of citizens is necessary to ensure that the case can be adequately and fairly presented," wrote the judge.

Lawyers for the province previously indicated that it would consider appealing Romaine's decision should she rule the answers be disclosed.

There is no timeline for when the answers to Romaine's questions will be made public.

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