Alberta Premier Danielle Smith has made it clear she won’t tolerate any more mask mandates for students in the province’s school system because of the harmful effects she says masking has on children.
“The detrimental effects of masking on the mental health, development and education of children in classroom settings is well understood, and we must turn the page on what has been an extremely difficult time for children, along with their parents and teachers,” Smith wrote in a statement released Oct. 29.
“Our government will not permit any further masking mandates of children in Alberta’s K-12 education system.”
Smith’s statement was in response to an Alberta Court of King’s Bench ruling issued three days earlier finding that the previous provincial government’s order last winter to lift mask mandates for schools was “unreasonable.”
She also directed the justice minister to assess the court ruling and asked other government officials to keep her “alert” to any changes that undermine the government’s authority on the matter.
“I have directed our Justice minister to assess whether an appeal of Thursday’s Kings Bench Court decision is appropriate,” Premier Smith wrote in her statement.
“[I] have instructed our government’s ministers of Justice, Health and Education to alert me to any legislative or regulatory changes that may be necessary to reaffirm or clarify our government’s full authority with respect to this and other health and education matters.”
Justice Grant Dunlop had ruled on Oct. 26 that former Alberta premier Jason Kenney’s government acted unreasonably in February when it ordered removal of the requirement for kids to wear masks in school. Dunlop reasoned that the Public Health Act requires decisions to be made by the chief medical officer of health (CMOH) or an authorized delegate rather than elected officials.
The court had reviewed the order after the families of five immunocompromised children along with the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL), a teachers’ union, requested a judicial review, alleging that the removal of the mandate was discriminatory against the children.
In his ruling, Justice Dunlop also said a Feb.8 letter from Education Minister Adriana LaGrange to school authorities conveying the government’s order was problematic.
LaGrange wrote, “School authorities cannot deny their students access to in person education due to their personal decision to wear or not to wear a mask in schools,” citing Section 3(1) of the Education Act.
“Effective Monday, February 14, 2022 the masking requirements in CMOH 22-2021 will be removed and as such there will be no masking requirements for any students in schools or on school buses,” LaGrange’s letter stated, adding that as of that date “school boards will not be empowered by provincial health order or recommendations from the CMOH” to require those mask mandates for students.
Justice Dunlop said that while the Education Act, specifically Section 51(2), does empower the education minister to restrict the powers of a school board, this must be done through a regulation; however, LaGrange’s letter was “not a regulation” and in fact caused “widespread misunderstanding.”
After dropping the mask mandates for school students in February, the Alberta government lifted mandatory mask requirements across the province on June 14.
Marnie Cathcart contributed to this report.