N.S. government granted injunction to stop anti-mask, anti-lockdown protests
HALIFAX -- Premier Iain Rankin says he sought a court injunction to halt plans for an anti-mask rally scheduled to take place on Citadel Hill in Halifax on Saturday and a Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice granted it -- ruling that it was necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
"There was a protest planned for this weekend, a group of people who don't agree with wearing a mask or following restrictions," said Rankin, during a live news conferene on Friday. "So, government went to court to seek an injunction, and that was granted today, preventing this group, and any other from organizing, preventing and participating in a gathering against protocols."
The injunction, granted by Supreme Court of Nova Scotia Justice Scott Norton, prohibits any rally that would contravene the province's public health directives. It also prohibits organizers from continuing to promote the rallies on social media and authorizes police to ensure compliance with the Health Protection Act.
In a decision released Friday, Norton said anticipated harm would be imminent because of the potential spread of COVID-19 at the scheduled rallies.
Norton said there is a greater public interest in maintaining the integrity of current public health restrictions than permitting the rallies to go ahead as planned.
A group called "Freedom Nova Scotia" was scheduled to hold a rally at Citadel Hill, in Halifax, at 1 p.m. Saturday, while a "Worldwide Freedom Rally" was to take place later that day on a baseball field in Barrington, N.S., at 6 p.m.
Norton said the groups are "uninformed or wilfully blind to the scientific and medical evidence" used to support the public health restrictions.
An excerpt from the ruling Friday of Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice Scott Norton.
"Their plan to gather in-person in large numbers, without social distancing and without masks, in contravention of the public health recommendations and orders shows a callous and shameful disregard for the health and safety of their fellow citizens," the judge said.
Norton noted the province's hospitals are filling with COVID-19 patients, adding that health-care workers have been "working tirelessly" for 14 months to manage the health crisis. He said schools and many businesses have had to close, leaving people out of work.
"Yet, Nova Scotia has done better than many other provinces because its public health officials have taken an aggressive approach based on science, medicine and common sense," Norton said. "It is appropriate to include notice that law enforcement officers will arrest and charge anyone in breach of the prohibitions."
The injunction remains in effect until the state of emergency is lifted.
People attending previous demonstrations organized by the group ignored public health orders and refused to wear masks and maintain physical distancing.
Chief medical officer of health Dr., Robert Strang testified in court as an expert witness on the risks posed by large gatherings during which people don't wear masks.
"We are in a serious situation -- we're in the middle of a global pandemic," Strang told reporters Friday. "We cannot let a small group of individuals who wilfully dismiss the science ΓÇª the evidence around how their actions can put people at significant risk."
Rankin expressed concern about the mounting strain on the hospital system, saying there are currently 95 people in hospital because of the disease. "We now have more hospitalizations than we had in the first and second wave combined," he said.
Premier Iain Rankin said he was pleased with the judge's decision.
"I am personally all for freedom of speech, but will not allow the select few to jeopardize our ability to crush this third wave," Rankin said. "People have a right to share their views but while we're in a province wide lockdown, in the middle of a third wave, it is incumbent for all of us to protect each other by following public health protocols."
The premier said despite existing health measures and fines, the court order provides "extra teeth" and gives police more authority to take action, including arresting those who violate the order.
With files from The Canadian Press.