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Court Dismisses Appeal of Saskatchewan COVID-19 Gathering Restrictions

A recent ruling in a Saskatchewan Court has upheld the province’s restrictions on outdoor gatherings during the pandemic, deeming them justified despite limitations on charter rights.

Jasmin Grandel and Darrell Mills initially contested the restrictions on outdoor gatherings during the pandemic in a lawsuit. However, the case was dismissed in 2022 by the Court of King’s Bench, which acknowledged that while the restrictions did impact individual charter rights, they were deemed necessary.

Subsequently, on May 15, the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal affirmed this decision.

“The rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Charter are not absolute; s. 1 states that they are subject to ‘such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society,’” wrote Justice Jeffrey Kalmakoff in the decision, referencing a previous statement by Justice D.B. Konkin of the Court of King’s Bench of Saskatchewan on Sept. 20, 2022, which highlighted the unprecedented nature of the COVID-19 pandemic and the dire consequences of government inaction at the time.

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF), which represented Ms. Grandel and Mr. Mills, expressed disappointment with the outcome.

“While the 10-person outdoor gathering restrictions were in effect, the Government of Saskatchewan, including Premier Scott Moe and Chief Medical Health Officer Saqib Shahab, publicly supported large Black Lives Matter protests in violation of outdoor gathering restrictions,” said JCCF in a news release. “Meanwhile, Canadians attending protests against COVID gathering restrictions were targeted and fined only six months later by the same government.”

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Justice Kalmakoff analyzed the case details, noting that outdoor gatherings were restricted to 50 people initially from March 17, 2020, to March 26, 2020. Subsequent limitations from March 26 to June 8 of the same year reduced outdoor gathering limits to 10 people before being increased to 30 until December 17.

From December 14, 2020, to May 30, 2021, outdoor events were once again limited to 10 people, with the health officer subsequently expanding the outdoor limit to 150 people. All restrictions were lifted by July 2021.

Mr. Mills received one violation ticket, while Ms. Grandel received eight tickets for attending protests against COVID-19 restrictions. The court highlighted Ms. Grandel’s role in organizing the events.

Justice Kalmakoff mentioned that the Court of King’s Bench judge had considered transmission and mortality rates of COVID-19, noting the balancing act between public safety and individual liberties by the Government based on available scientific evidence.

He pointed out the higher risk of transmission associated with outdoor protests, despite being held outside.

“In the face of all of that, I can find no error” in that aspect of the decision, Justice Kalmakoff stated, affirming that Justice Konkin correctly evaluated the evidence and applied the legal test appropriately.

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