When Premier Jason Kenney announced a series of new pandemic restrictions across Alberta to limit the spread of COVID-19, he made it abundantly clear it wasn’t his preference.
“I certainly didn’t go into public service, nor did any of the people sitting around our cabinet table, in order to impose restrictions on how people live their lives,” the premier said during his media availability.
For weeks, the Kenney government has been resisting calls for stronger measures from doctors and the Opposition, citing concerns over how a widespread lockdown would impact small- and medium-sized business owners, and workers who would potentially lose their jobs.
On Tuesday, he added another reason.
“In so much of the debate… have (we) forgotten about the Charter of Rights and Freedoms?” the premier asked.
Kenney argued governments should not start with the impairment of fundamental rights protected in the Charter, instead they should only be used as a final resort.
“The Charter jurisprudence is very clear about this, that if governments are to impair Charter rights, it must be a minimal impairment to achieve a policy goal,” he said.
According to Eric Adams, a professor in the Faculty of Law at the University of Alberta, that is not the case.
“That’s certainly not, I think, what any court of law would say.”
Adams said case law around the Charter has actually made it pretty clear that governments have incredible latitude to deal with a crisis such as a pandemic, and he doesn’t believe a challenge to strong and reasonable restrictions would stand up.
“There is no way that is going to occur… when governments are saving lives, preserving a functioning health-care system and dealing — to quote the premier’s own words — (with) a once-in-a century pandemic,” Adams said.
“What other case could there be for reasonable limits on people’s freedoms?”
NDP Leader Rachel Notley said the premier is simply attempting to appease his political base, and is failing the test of leadership.
“We have seen — unfortunately — in Alberta, this premier retreat to a very, very lonely ideological corner,” she told reporters Wednesday afternoon.
“Sometimes questions go beyond your ideology and your partisan leanings, and you need to think about all the evidence and all the people you are there to represent.”