Protesters ticketed under N.S. COVID-19 injunction
HALIFAX -- A debate has emerged over the power to enforce public health protocols versus the public's right to protest after Halifax Regional Police issued a spate of fines at two gatherings Saturday.
According to HRP, "significant police resources were tied up" in response to the gatherings.
It says 50 people attended a protest on Citadel Hill, organized by anti-lockdown activists in defiance of public health protocols.
At that event, police say six arrests were made, and 11 summary offence tickets related to violating pandemic protocols were issued. The tickets come with a fine of more than $2,000 each.
That same day, Halifax police also fined attendees as an event billed as a "COVID safe car rally" in solidarity against the violence in East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.
Participants like Alaa Darwish gathered in "bubbles" in individual cars to meet at a parking lot at Saint Mary's University, before driving down to Pier 21.
"We didn't want to do anything that would violate these COVID-19 guidelines, the 6-foot social distancing stuff, so the car rally was the best option," said Darwish on Saturday.
But police handed out 11 pandemic-related fines at the rally and arrested one person. Police have said more than 500 people attended.
No one from Halifax Police would do an interview with CTV on Monday, but on Saturday Chief Dan Kinsella said both events violated a court injunction put in place Friday to prevent illegal gatherings.
"The same methodology was applied to ensure the community is kept safe," he said. "It was identified as an illegal gathering, the individuals there were dealt with to ensure public safety."
At Nova Scotia's COVID-19 briefing Monday, the province's Chief Medial Officer of Health said even a car rally is against public gathering restrictions at this time.
"Even people getting together in a group in a parking lot together in cars, is technically a gathering."
The province's current gathering limit, indoors or outdoors, is set to members of one household only, without physical distancing.
But the Canadian Civil Liberties Association says it's concerned with how broadly the injunction is being interpreted, as it was originally sought by the province in an effort to stop the anti-lockdown protest.
"I think the government should be careful about trying to restrict or impose limits on those types of activities," said Cara Zwibel, the CCLA's director of the Association's fundamental freedoms program.
She says earlier this month, the province of Alberta was also granted a similar injunction. But according to Zwibel, "the court did, even with the agreement of government in that case, narrow the injunction substantially."
That injunction named specific parties, although some say it is also being interpreted broadly.
Dalhousie University law professor Wayne MacKay says "there's no question" rights are being limited but emphasizes that all rights are subject to reasonable limits. During a pandemic, he says, courts are including COVID-19 restrictions an acceptable part of those limits.
"So it's not so much that the laws themselves supersede the Constitutional right, but they help to define what are reasonable limits on those rights," said MacKay.
"And that's what I think the court decision and injunction is saying … You can only protest if you do so in a way that is in accordance with the health restrictions and the emergency restrictions."
As with any court decision -- Mackay says the injunction can be challenged -- by anyone who feels they have the grounds to do so.