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Alberta Premier Danielle Smith says cabinet will explore how to assert the government’s authority to keep mask mandates out of schools,JASON FRANSON/The Canadian Press

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith says her government is moving to prevent the return of any mask mandates in elementary and high schools in the future – a decision medical professionals and the province’s educational workers’ union are denouncing as lacking scientific merit and threatening to public health.

The Premier’s announcement follows an Alberta judge’s ruling last week that the United Conservative Party’s February decision to lift mask mandates at schools was unreasonable because it was made by cabinet and not by the province’s Chief Medical Officer of Health.

In a statement on Saturday, Ms. Smith says her cabinet will explore how to assert the government’s authority to keep mask mandates out of schools in the future.

“I have directed our justice minister to assess whether an appeal of Thursday’s Kings Bench Court decision is appropriate,” the statement says.

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It adds that the Premier has “instructed our government’s ministers of justice, health and education to alert me to any legislative or regulatory changes that may be necessary to reaffirm or clarify our government’s full authority with respect to this and other health and education matters.”

According to Ms. Smith, there is a “well understood” detrimental effect of masks to children’s mental health, development and education.

The Premier’s latest move is one of many aimed at health care and COVID-19 policies. She has said one of her priorities is to represent the views of rural communities in the province, which she said were disregarded during the pandemic.

Louis Hugo Francescutti, an emergency physician and professor with the University of Alberta’s School of Public Health, said there’s no scientific evidence that supports Ms. Smith’s claims on Saturday.

“For a government to stand up and say the evidence is there, well, let’s ask them for the evidence,” Dr. Francescutti said.

“Please show it to us, and not something that appeared on Uncle Joe’s website, but something that’s been published and peer-reviewed.”

Efforts to ban masks are based on “gut feelings” rather than any scientific reality, according to Dr. Francescutti, who said that it was alarming to see the government acting without scientific merit.

A spokesperson for Ms. Smith declined to comment past Saturday’s short statement.

Rory Gill, president of CUPE Alberta, which represents roughly 8,000 educational, custodial, administrative and trades workers at schools, called the announcement “incredibly frustrating and disappointing” in an interview.

CUPE Alberta is a member of the Alberta Federation of Labour, which launched the court action against the government’s original move to lift mask mandates.

“The Premier has doubled down and has again showed her blatant disregard for public health, for the scientific method and for the children,” Mr. Gill said.

Earlier this month, Ms. Smith urged businesses to drop vaccine requirements ahead of the UCP government’s plan to make those who chose not to be immunized a protected class of people. She has also pledged to replace the entire board of Alberta Health Services as part of her plans to overhaul the health authority.

The Premier has heavily criticized AHS’s handling of the pandemic, and blames the authority for the province’s moves to impose business shutdowns and vaccine mandates during the height of the public-health crisis.

However, Dr. Francescutti warns COVID-19 is still a factor in our lives and said the majority of the tests he sends away on patients he believes have the virus have come back positive.

“The bottom line is if your kid has any kind of pre-existing conditions, or if you as a teacher or parent have any kind of pre-existing medical conditions, get your shots and try and protect yourself,” he said.

“COVID has not gone away. We think it’s gone away but it hasn’t.”

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