A case before the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador is questioning whether provinces have a constitutional right to deny entry to Canadian citizens during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Newfoundland and Labrador, like P.E.I., has closed its borders in an effort to control the spread of novel coronavirus infections. Last week, a Nova Scotia woman announced she was mounting a constitutional challenge of that border closure with the support of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.
Kim Taylor was denied entry to Newfoundland to attend her mother's funeral.
Michael Bryant, a lawyer and executive director of the CCLA, said the border closure is a clear violation of Section 6 of the constitution, which provides Canadians with the right to work or travel in any province, and the provinces need to be able to justify that violation.
"You need to say why this particular infringement is necessary," said Bryant.
Bryant likened controlling provincial borders to controlling the number of people in a grocery store, and said in his opinion closing borders would have to be a last resort.
"If the population density in a province was so full, and the health care system was completely at capacity, then maybe under those circumstances, if there was not another way to control the population density, then maybe it could be justified," he said.
"There's no evidence about population density for Newfoundland, and similarly for P.E.I."
Denying someone entry to Newfoundland because they are from Nova Scotia is like denying someone from the wrong side of town access to a grocery store, he said.
"This is about freedom and liberty and mobility and the ability to go anywhere in Canada as a Canadian," he said.
"This is really the whole point of Canada."
The Newfoundland and Labrador government has said the constitution allows for rights to be reduced when it is necessary for the greater public good. Whether the restrictions the province has put in place during the pandemic meet that test will be a decision for the courts, said Health Minister John Haggie.
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