They gotta fight for their right to folly Constitutional freedom advocacy group at bat for public-health rule-breakers swings, misses with amazing consistency
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It may be the ultimate irony.
Months after most restrictions have been lifted, anti-vaccine, anti-mask, anti-pandemic restriction militants are filling courtrooms across the country to fight tickets and fines issued during the early days of the COVID-19 public-health threat.
Some are representing themselves in court. Others are getting legal assistance from like-minded advocacy groups. Regardless of how they are fighting, they’re doing it to win back rights they never really had.
According to a story published in the Free Press this week, last year 77 Manitobans facing Quarantine Act charges — mostly for refusing to adhere to vaccine and travel requirements — were scheduled to go to trial. Most of those were resolved through stays of charges, guilty pleas and the occasional (four) acquittals.
However, more than three dozen cases are still before the courts, 16 of them scheduled for trial this year. These cases present an enormous burden to a justice system that is still straining to eliminate backlogs created by the pandemic.
Despite having only a remote likelihood of success, these “freedom fighters” continue to look for any venue and any occasion to show how pandemic restrictions violated their constitutionally guaranteed rights to do whatever they want, wherever and whenever they want. These are foolish legal arguments without a shred of legal merit, but aggrieved citizens are nonetheless allowed to seek legal remedy because — wait for it — they have a constitutionally guaranteed right to their day in court.
Section 24 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms stipulates that any citizen who believes their “rights or freedoms, as guaranteed by this Charter, have been infringed or denied” has the right to “apply to a court of competent jurisdiction to obtain such remedy as the court considers appropriate and just in the circumstances.”
Even so, courts across this country have summarily rejected nonsensical arguments that pandemic restrictions were unconstitutional. However, in a democracy that has codified its rights and freedoms, you have to allow people to chase windmills if that’s what they really want to do.
These cases present an enormous burden to a justice system that is still straining to eliminate backlogs created by the pandemic.
That is, in and of itself, not an insignificant expression of our civil liberties.
Allowing someone to pursue a challenge to pandemic restrictions up to an actual trial is a pretty special right, particularly when you consider how many countries around the world do not even allow public protests against government policy.
In fact, it’s so special that it really should give pause to all those anti-restriction activists who love to rant on about how Canada has become a dictatorship simply because government had the temerity to ask them to wear a mask or get a vaccine to stave off a virus that claimed more than 50,000 Canadian lives.
It should be noted that right up there at the front of the “don’t-know-how-good-you-got-it” constituency is the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, a legal advocacy group that, to date, hasn’t shown an overwhelming familiarity with the Constitution.
The JCCF continues to fight on in courts all over the country to prove the unconstitutionality of pandemic restrictions and penalties levied against individuals, claiming that it does all this work without any government support. Oddly, it seems to have forgotten that, as a registered charity, its donors are getting tax credits from Ottawa. But I digress.
The JCCF continues to fight on in courts all over the country to prove the unconstitutionality of pandemic restrictions and penalties levied against individuals.
It would be unkind of me to openly speculate that the JCCF is little more than a cottage industry for lawyers to solicit donations to keep them busy in long, convoluted and pointless but ultimately profitable legal challenges. Instead, let’s let the justice centre’s track record of success on pandemic-related cases speak for itself.
And there’s the rub: there really isn’t any record of success.
The JCCF has attempted to take credit for several cases where charges against individuals for violating pandemic restrictions were dropped or stayed. However, in all instances, those decisions were made for technical or procedural reasons, not as endorsements of the centre’s philosophical mission.
Most notably, the justice centre has lost every major constitutional challenge it has launched against broadly applied provincial pandemic restrictions. Every single one.
The “golden sombrero” is awarded metaphorically and sarcastically to a professional baseball player who strikes out four or more times in a game. The justice centre can mount at least one of those stylish chapeaus on the walls of its Calgary offices.
There is one viable legal accomplishment the JCCF has accomplished: founder and lead counsel John Carpay has been charged with criminal obstruction of justice and intimidating a justice official when it was revealed he had hired a private investigator in the hope of unearthing potentially embarrassing evidence of a Manitoba judge breaking pandemic rules.
The judge in question did not break any pandemic rules. But it’s possible, pending the outcome of his case, that Carpay broke some criminal laws.
Even a conviction on those charges may not be enough to discourage the JCCF from continuing its work. As long as we have public-health crises and government interventions, there will be opportunities to mount challenges.
In fact, you could go as far as to say the JCCF’s future work is, for lack of a better word, guaranteed. By Section 24 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Born and raised in and around Toronto, Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school with a lifelong dream to be a newspaper reporter.