CCLA slams COVID-response bills in Ontario, Alberta and Newfoundland and Labrador

A new report that assesses the civil liberties implications of stay-at-home orders

CCLA slams COVID-response bills in Ontario, Alberta and Newfoundland and Labrador
Michael Bryant

A report by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association has given “F” grades to three pandemic-related laws at the provincial level, part of a new report that assesses the civil liberties implications of stay-at-home orders. 

“On the one hand, the decentralization of emergency management in Canada allowed a city like Winnipeg, despite its terrible record of police brutality and over-incarceration of Indigenous peoples, to show the country how compliance with public health recommendations can be done without charging people with provincial offences. It allowed Ontario to decarcerate its provincial prison population by nearly a quarter, after which no crime pandemic followed, demonstrating just how overpopulated our prisons have been,” says the report. 

“The most vulnerable in our society got the worst of it, of course. They were always an afterthought for leadership, at best. People experiencing homelessness faced a dilemma. . . For federal inmates, there wasn’t even a choice at all, and they just got sick and sicker. The need to control the uncontrollable translated into a ticketing pandemic.” 

The lengthy report assessed emergency powers, saying to make a good grade the rule must be necessary, be proportionate, and be time-limited. While there were no “A” grades awarded, some measures received middling grades, including the closure of the international borders, the CFB Trenton quarantine, and Nunavut’s improved physical distancing laws.

“Nunavut revised its order to be significantly more Charter-compliant,” said the CCLA.     “The new order authorized public gatherings and private gatherings of 5 persons or less. It no longer singled out religious, cultural, or spiritual gatherings for restriction. Warrantless entry to dwellings was no longer authorized unless consented to by the occupant or person in charge of the dwelling. This order also had many more reasonable exceptions: the 5- person limit did not apply to hospitals, for example.” 

Orders in Ontario, Alberta and Newfoundland and Labrador, however, received an “F” grade in the report. 

“The Newfoundland government has failed to justify the necessity of a border closure that does not offer a self-isolation plan or other forms of adherence to public health orders as conditions for entry. . . .The ban would have been more proportionate if the travel ban order included an extensive and thoughtful list of exemptions,” said the report. 

The CCLA’s criticism also homed in on Ontario’s first responder bill and Alberta’s Bill 10.

In Ontario, the CCLA said, a rule to allow first responders to get COVID-19 positive status on civilians is vulnerable to data privacy breaches, and the data may prove too outdated to be useful for those on the front lines. 

“The decision to provide this information to the police has a disproportionately interferes with Ontarians’ right to privacy, disproportionately affects communities already excessively targeted for criminalization who are also at increased risk for COVID-19, and inappropriately captures individuals who do not pose any health or safety risk. The impact of sharing this information on already marginalized communities, including Indigenous and Black Canadians, is particularly significant,” says the CCLA report.

            In Alberta, the response would allow a minister to act with the full power of a parliamentary majority, the CCLA said. 

“Bill 10 is radically disproportionate. The minimal time saved by waiving the need for a minister to consult with stakeholders pales in comparison to the damage done to Alberta’s democracy by stripping Alberta of so many checks and balances,” said the report.           

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