Through a time of chaos, the Alberta government has quietly expanded its own powers under the Public Health Act. Bill 10. This bill, which was rushed through the legislature in less than 48 hours, gives cabinet ministers new powers to write de facto laws and create new penalties without the approval of the legislative assembly. Gives them the green light to over power.
Before Bill 10 came into effect on April 2, Alberta’s Public Health Act already empowered politicians and bureaucrats to take property away from citizens and organizations, to force citizens to render aid, to conscript people to help deal with an emergency and to enter into any building or property without a warrant. The chief medical officer was already empowered to forcibly quarantine any person who is ill, or any person who is caring for a sick family member.
As well, prior to Bill 10, cabinet ministers were already empowered to suspend the operation of provincial laws, in whole or in part, once cabinet declared a public health emergency. Now with Bill 10 being active, cabinet ministers have acquired the additional power of creating and implementing new orders and penalties, simply through ministerial order, without them being discussed, questioned, debated or approved by the legislative assembly of Alberta.
With Bill 10 several penalities of increased such as the maximum penalty for disobeying the Public Health Act which went from being $2,000 to $100,000 for a first offence, and from $5,000 to $500,000 for a subsequent offence.
The reasoning behind this increase was to “strengthen our ability to protect the health and safety of Albertans.” stated Health Minister Tyler Shandro.
Without review or approval of the legislature, a minister can now create a new order requiring people to install tracking devices on their cellphones, and requiring them to register their phones with the government.
Without any oversight or clarification from anyone else, a minister can create an exclusive list of people who are legally permitted to go outside, or legally authorized to drive a vehicle, and impose a $1,000 fine on those who walk outside or drive “illegally” because they are not on the list. The health minister as well could even out something into play that all sick people must be forcibly removed from their homes, as the World Health Organization has suggested. And an order could be issued for mass vaccination, without any discussion or debate in the legislature.
After the government decides that the health emergency can come to an end, cabinet’s powers to suspend laws and create new laws without input or approval from the legislature will eventually come to an end. The Public Health Act refers to a 30-day period for a public health emergency, but nothing in the legislation stops the cabinet from declaring another public health emergency the day after the first one expires. Practically speaking, the provincial cabinet, on the advice of the chief medical officer, could maintain a public health emergency for months or even years.
Bill 10 is still an affront to the rule of law, one of Canada’s foundational principles. “Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law” are the first words in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The rule of law means being governed by laws, not by the whims of a king or a cabinet minister.
During this pandemic, we should accept reasonable restrictions on our charter freedoms on a temporary basis, with defined time limits and clearly explained justifications. Yet Alberta’s legislation provides no assurance that the violations of our rights will be only temporary, and no specific justification for Bill 10 has been provided.