Courts to hear churches' constitutional challenge of Manitoba public health orders May 3

A Thompson church is one of seven Manitoba churches and three individuals involved in a civil court application contesting the constitutionality of the province’s public health orders restricting church services and gatherings.

Gateway Bible Baptist Church, which has 13 active members, along with churches in Winkler, Morden, Altona and Brandon, is an applicant in the court challenge along with a deacon from Morden, a minister at the Church of God in Steinbach and a man from Winnipeg who was fined for attending a Hugs Not Masks rally in Steinbach.

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The applicants are being represented by lawyer Allison Pejovic from the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF) in Calgary, which filed the application in December, shortly after launching a similar action against the Alberta government.

The court challenge contends that chief provincial public health officer Dr, Brent Roussin and deputy chief provincial public health officer Dr. Jazz Atwal do not have the authority to make laws in the form of public health orders and that the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests used to determine if someone has a COVID-19 infection are misleading and unreliable and produce a high percentage of false positive results. It also alleges that the number of deaths in Manitoba as a result of the pandemic has been “inaccurately inflated” and that public health orders infringe upon equality rights, among others, because churches have been, at times, prohibited from holding in-person services while grocery stores and liquor stores have been allowed to remain open.

Among the remedies sought by the applicants are an order prohibiting Roussin and other public health officials from issuing further orders to restrict or close places of worship or business, or restricting the number of visitors people may have in their homes. Currently, only two designated visitors are allowed to visit people in their homes and religious services are limited to 25 per cent capacity or 50 people, whichever is lower, with masks required except when household groups are seated, appropriately distanced from others and not singing.

“Locking down the majority of a healthy society is not necessary to protect those most at risk from COVID-19,” Pejovic said in a December JCCF press release. “The lockdowns are devastating society on multiple socio-economic and constitutional levels, and harming the well being of citizens. Politicians have not put forward any persuasive evidence that lockdowns have actually saved lives. At the same time there is no question that lockdowns have caused grave harm to millions of Canadians suffering unemployment poverty, cancelled surgeries, suicide, isolation and the loss of their liberty. The scale of the government’s infringement on Canadians’ charter-protected rights and freedoms as a result of Manitoba’s response to COVID-19 is unprecedented. It is past time that the constitutionality of these restrictions and prohibitions are adjudicated by a fair and impartial court that looks at facts and evidence."

The application is scheduled to be heard May 3-7 and May 10-14 in Manitoba’s Court of Queen’s Bench. It can be attended virtually by members of the public who register at least two business days before the first day of the hearing. For more details on how to register for the hearing, see the JCCF news release.

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