Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
Just$1.99
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(select.open)}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](select.open),dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

A sign instructs people to wear masks in downtown Calgary on Oct. 30, 2020.

Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

Two Alberta churches are suing the provincial government in hopes of overturning its restrictions designed to control the spread of the coronavirus, arguing the rules infringe on constitutional rights and make life unbearable.

The Baptist churches and three individuals on Friday filed a lawsuit alleging Alberta implemented restrictions without proving the pandemic is an actual emergency. The court challenge is sweeping, with alleged rights violations ranging from infringements on liberty because of a lack of access to personal care products and entertainment to breaches of equality because students in junior high and high school must study at home until the new year while younger pupils attend classes. The document argues Alberta’s rules create more physical, emotional and economic harm than they prevent.

Heights Baptist Church and Northside Baptist Church in the lawsuit allege the fallout includes “a crushing depravation of fundamental freedoms and individual liberty, the breadth and depth of which is unknown in the history of this province making life in Alberta more akin to life in a totalitarian dictatorship.”

Story continues below advertisement

However, Premier Jason Kenney has rejected widespread lockdowns, arguing the economic and social damage would outweigh the benefits. He has repeatedly justified this lighter touch as COVID-19 surges in Alberta by warning against denting rights and freedoms. Alberta, for example, lacks a provincewide mask mandate, and pubs, restaurants and stores remain open, albeit with restrictions. Indoor social gatherings, however, are now prohibited, and places of worship in some parts of the province must follow occupancy restrictions and other guidelines. Legal scholars say it would be a struggle for the lawsuit to win the court’s favour.

The broad approach – the suit includes challenges based on legislative jurisdiction, the Alberta Bill of Rights and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms – hurts its credibility, said Margot Young, a professor at the Allard School of Law at the University of British Columbia.

“The lawyers and claimants just went all out with really not much attention to the reasonableness of the arguments they were making,” she said. And they overplayed their hand by, for example, comparing Alberta to a dictatorship.

“That is such an exaggerative, incredible claim, that it really does damage to whatever else they say that may have some scintilla of reasonableness in it.”

The Alberta government did not comment on the lawsuit.

Kerri Froc, a law professor at the University of New Brunswick, said the lawsuit’s more frivolous accusations overshadow those that may be more viable, such as the ones related to freedoms of religion and association. But governments are permitted to infringe on rights if the violations are reasonable and justified. Prof. Froc said she expects courts to give governments leeway in light of the pandemic.

“The Charter is [not] this magic wand that is going to thwart the government from doing any of these things that put a cramp in our style,” she said. “The Charter just doesn’t work that way.”

Story continues below advertisement

On Saturday, a Manitoba judge rejected a church’s request to hold drive-in services despite restrictions on public gatherings and in-person religious events.

“The onus that an applicant must meet to obtain a stay of legislation is extremely high,” Chief Justice Glenn Joyal of the Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench said in his ruling. “I do not believe that the applicants meet their burden of showing that [they] will suffer irreparable harm if the injunction is not granted.”

The Manitoba church argued the public-health order requiring religious services to be online or via broadcast only violates freedoms of religion and association under the Charter. British Columbia in November fined a church that defied its public-health orders.

But James Kitchen, a lawyer from the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, which filed the Alberta lawsuit, said that while others believe the pandemic justifies restrictions, the province has not proven the virus, which has killed 1.5 million people, is a real emergency.

“We say it is a pandemic, but is it actually?”

He agrees COVID-19 is has killed people and is a serious problem, but that alone does not make it a pandemic. The public-health orders, he said, prevent people from living their lives with meaning. “It is destroying our society,” he said.

Story continues below advertisement

With a report from The Canadian Press

We have a weekly Western Canada newsletter written by our B.C. and Alberta bureau chiefs, providing a comprehensive package of the news you need to know about the region and its place in the issues facing Canada. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Coronavirus information
Coronavirus information
The Zero Canada Project provides resources to help you manage your health, your finances and your family life as Canada reopens.
Visit the hub
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies