What happened when COVID-19 skeptical legal cases made it to court in Ontario?

Anti-mandate protesters, also known as Freedom Convoy, rally at Ontario's Queen's Park in Toronto to oppose anti-mandates imposed by the government. A protester carrying a "Mother, Should I trust the government?" signage in Toronto, Ontario, February 12, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Dominic Chan

In October 2021, a handful of protesters loyal to the QAnon conspiracy movement gathered outside a public health building in eastern Ontario.

“You are interfering with them being served,” a security guard standing in front of the Peterborough Public Health building was told by one protester in a video posted to Twitter.

The group eventually entered the building, heading for the third floor, apparently to serve a cease-and-desist letter on behalf of a figure styling herself as the Queen of Canada.

Officials with Peterborough Public Health confirmed to Global News that no legal paperwork was ever filed by the group.

“The medical officer of health has not been named a defendant on any court cases/human rights complaints related to the COVID-19 pandemic,” a spokesperson said.

Story continues below advertisement

While the group in Peterborough failed to make its appeal in front of a judge, others have taken issues with mask mandates, vaccines and lockdowns to courts in Ontario.

“My impression has been the pandemic hasn’t been easy for anyone, including the court process, but the court has handled it fairly well and has taken a fairly measured and reasonable response,” Christopher Wirth, senior council with Keel Cottrelle told Global News.

Writh has followed COVID-19-related cases as they have appeared in Ontario courts, including how judges have viewed appeals against pandemic restrictions.

A range of cases that have been heard by provincial courts have been dismissed. The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario threw out at least four complaints about mandatory vaccination in January alone.

In March 2022, for example, a proposed class action lawsuit was dismissed for the second time, with the Court of Appeal of Ontario holding up a previous ruling in no uncertain terms.

The case alleged COVID-19 was a global conspiracy designed, among other things, to promote a sterilization program.

The case, brought by Stacy Amikwabi and several others, named a wide-ranging list of defendants. Pope Francis, Queen Elizabeth II and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation were all included. So too were Ontario Premier Doug Ford, former health minister Christine Elliott and Ottawa’s then-mayor Jim Watson.

Story continues below advertisement

The failed claim sought billions of dollars from foreign and domestic governments.

The latest health and medical news emailed to you every Sunday.

Ontario’s court system did not look kindly upon it.

“It is plain and obvious on the face of the pleading that the action against these defendants is frivolous, vexatious or an abuse of process,” Justice Sylvia Corthorn wrote in her initial October 2021 decision, dismissing the claim.

Assessing claims against, Ford and Elliott, the judge said, “substantive allegations, when read in their entirety, are repetitive and rambling.”

The next year, Ontario’s court of appeal agreed.

“A court is concerned with accepting evidence from those who are qualified as expert,” Wirth explained.

“There is a legal threshold that has to be established to prove that someone has the expertise in a specific area before a court is even going to consider it.”

The proposed class action lawsuit was far from the only vaccine, mask or lockdown-skeptic legal challenge to appear on the desk of a judge.

A spokesperson for the City of Toronto provided a list of cases it faced in relation to COVID-19 policies, including 21 statements of claim focusing on mandatory vaccination. City employees were required to be vaccinated in a policy that was in place between September 2021 and December 2022.

Story continues below advertisement

Another case was brought by groups called Children’s Health Defence (Canada) and Educators for Human Rights, along with guardians representing various children. It named the City of Toronto, several medical officers of health and school boards as defendants.

The statement of claim alleged that lockdowns and stay-at-home orders were “forms of martial law” outside of Ontario’s jurisdiction. It also claimed inaccuracies in the province’s COVID-19 monitoring, referencing a “false, and fraudulent” use of PCR tests.

Claims about the accuracy of PCR testing have been long relied upon by groups opposed to COVID-19 measures. Experts have not generally backed the argument.

One study of some 100,000 swab samples found the false negative rate for COVID-19 tests was “low and subject to viral load dynamics over time.” The study found just 0.05 per cent of swabs came back with discordant results.

Despite being filed in April 2021, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in Toronto said the case appeared to be “dormant.” It is still technically active, but the last motion or change in relation to it was recorded in May 2021.

An appeal against Ottawa’s mask mandate by one resident was thrown out by a judge in May 2021.

Story continues below advertisement

“The Appellant provided information and research documents from the Internet in support of her views that (Ottawa’s medical officer of health) misrepresented/overstated the seriousness of the situation in the health unit in April 2021,” the court noted, denying the appeal.

Wirth said that people bringing their own research to the courtroom — instead of relying on expert opinion — are unlikely to see much success.

“Just doing your own research and being Doctor Google — it’s not going to get you very far in persuading a court of your position,” he said. “You actually have to have qualified experts whose qualifications are going to be accepted by the court.”

A separate five-page statement of claim — entitled “Ottawa’s mandatory use of cotton face masks is a violation of Canada’s Chart of Rights and Freedoms — was also dismissed in May 2021.

The court found the claim “falls short of identifying substantive allegations in support of an identifiable cause of action.”

However, as a post-mortem on the pandemic takes place over the next few years, and more scientific research is completed, Wirth said some decisions could be revisited.

“As we’re coming towards the dwindling of the pandemic and we have further information, data that allows us to have a more fulsome discussion of that (courts might) be open to looking at that and potentially reconsidering issues as they go along — where the evidence supports that,” he said.

Story continues below advertisement
Click to play video: 'Peterborough Mayor Diane Therrien drops F-bomb tweet on Romana Didulo followers'
Peterborough Mayor Diane Therrien drops F-bomb tweet on Romana Didulo followers

Sponsored content