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B.C. top doctor has power to restrict access to a place during health hazard: lawyer

Churches back in court

UPDATE 2:25 p.m.

A lawyer for British Columbia's attorney general says provincial public health orders do not single out or ban all in-person religious services.

Jacqueline Hughes told the B.C. Supreme Court that individual worship and drive-in eventsare permitted, subject to certain conditions, while weddings, funerals and baptisms may include no more than 10 guests.

She says provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has the statutory powers during an emergency to issue orders she reasonably believes are necessary to prevent and mitigate further harm from a health hazard.

Under B.C.'s Public Health Act, Hughes says, Henry can restrict or prevent entry to a place and she has made efforts to consult faith leaders while weighing their rights against COVID-19 health data.

Paul Jaffe, legal counsel for a group of petitioners that includes three Fraser Valley churches, has argued Henry's orders reflect a value judgment.

He told the court earlier this week his clients have adopted safety measures similar to those required in places that remain open and argued the health orders arbitrarily interfere with their charter right to freedom of religion.

Jaffe works with the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, a Calgary-based legal advocacy group that's also asking the court to dismiss tickets of up to $2,300 each for alleged violations of the public health orders.


ORIGINAL 6:55 a.m.

Lawyers for the province and the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms are back in B.C. Supreme Court today, squaring off over the legality of COVID-19 rules that prohibit in-person religious services.

Paul Jaffe, a lawyer for the group of petitioners that includes three Fraser Valley churches, has argued the health orders substantially and arbitrarily interfere with his clients' charter right to freedom of religion.

The group has also asked the court to dismiss tickets of up to $2,300 each for alleged violations of the orders first introduced last November.

Gareth Morley, a lawyer for the attorney general, told the court earlier this week that B.C.'s provincial health officer has the statutory power to ensure public health by proportionally and reasonably limiting certain freedoms.

He has argued that Dr. Bonnie Henry understands the importance of balancing restrictions against the right to freedom of religion and that she has outlined her reasoning both verbally in public briefings and in writing.

However, Morley acknowledged to Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson that it was not until the current order was amended last month that the document included specific reference to Henry's recognition of charter rights.



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