Several churches set to challenge code red restrictions in court

WINNIPEG — Next week the province will be heading back to court.

Several churches in the province have teamed up to file a legal challenge against public health orders, orders they say trample their charter rights.

Allison Pejovic, staff lawyer with the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms is representing the group, she said the orders are a severe infringement on her client’s freedom of religion and right to worship.

“They want to be together, they want to be able to see each other and have that human experience as they’re worshipping before God together, and they want some clarification from the judges,” she said.

The Manitoba Public Health Act says when responding to a health crisis, the restrictions of rights and freedoms should be no greater than necessary.

Pejovic said the applicants don’t believe the lockdowns were needed.

“They’re looking for declarations of invalidity and a declaration from a court that these orders are unlawful.”

In addition to the several churches involved, two restaurant owners and a man who was ticketed for speaking at a hugs over masks protest have also joined the applicants in the lawsuit. 

Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief public health officer, couldn’t comment on the lawsuit, but said the health restrictions are absolutely necessary.

“The alternative to these restrictions is to overrun the health-care system and the reading of much more Manitobans passing each day.”

Roussin said no one likes the restrictions that are in place, but they’ve been implemented to protect our health-care system for those who need it.

Todd Andres is a partner at Pitblado Law who practices in human rights law, he said the health orders do infringe on human rights, but the issue is more complicated than that.

“Can that infringement be what is called demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society?” asked Andres.

“I think the courts are going to afford a fair bit of deference to the legislature here, we have an emergency situation and these are elected officials.”

Pejovic said the applicants want clarification as to how far the province can go with health restrictions.

“Is there a line in the sand? Has the government crossed that line?

“We say they have and they’re not justified in doing so.”

The hearing is scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 17 at 10:00 a.m. 

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