Saskatoon city council votes against COVID-19 bylaw restricting gatherings

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Saskatoon city council voted against a proposed bylaw that would limit gathering sizes to prevent the spread of COVID-19. (Courtney Markewich/CBC - image credit)
Saskatoon city council voted against a proposed bylaw that would limit gathering sizes to prevent the spread of COVID-19. (Courtney Markewich/CBC - image credit)

Saskatoon city council voted 10-1 against implementing a proposed bylaw that would limit gathering sizes to combat the spread of COVID-19 during a special council meeting on Friday.

Bylaw 9782 was introduced by the city solicitor on Friday.

The bylaw would have prohibited private gatherings for unvaccinated or partly vaccinated people outside of their own households.

It would also have reduced gathering sizes for weddings, funerals and churches to 25 per cent of the building's capacity with no indoor dinning (or a maximum of 150 people for churches) if the event was not requiring proof of vaccination.

Mayor Charlie Clark said earlier in the week the bylaw was intended to last 28 days.

Confusion about jurisdiction

Council voted in favour of having the city solicitor write the bylaw earlier this week. Proponents said it was necessary to slow down the spread of new cases of COVID-19 in the city. The idea to write the bylaw came after council wrote a letter to the provincial government asking for more gathering restrictions for the City of Saskatoon, but was refused.

Many councillors spoke against the bylaw on Friday afternoon, calling it an overreach and noting that public health orders are the jurisdiction of the provincial government.

Coun. Darren Hill said the bylaw was vague and would "damage the relationship between the province and the city".

Coun. Randy Donauer brought up jurisdictional challenges that would come with implementing the bylaw.

"I think we're beyond our scope of authority here, despite what the perceived emergency or the real emergency is in our community. I do not think this bylaw will have any effect until it's approved by the Minister," Donauer said.

Coun. Bev Dubois said she would not support the bylaw, as it would be difficult to enforce. Coun. Zach Jeffries echoed Dubois' sentiment, saying "it wouldn't make any sense to me to to enact something and then subsequently within a day or two or less have that be be struck down by the province of Saskatchewan."

Mayor Charlie Clark said during the meeting that he was informed by the Minister of Government Relations Don McMorris Tuesday that the government would not support such a bylaw.

"It was asked directly to the government whether or not the government will support municipalities who implement bylaws based on the advice of local medical health officers and at that time, the response from Minister McMorris was, the answer will be no," Clark said during the meeting.

"Health care is a provincial jurisdiction and the government is not going to cede that at this time."

Council held part of Friday's meeting in-camera, not broadcasted to the public, to discuss whether the Minister of Health would be required to approve the bylaw to be effective.

Council then voted to not move ahead with a second reading of the bylaw. Only Ward 2 Coun. Hilary Gough voted in favour of the bylaw.

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