Manitoba's "inferior" public-health legislation forces the doctor leading the fight against COVID-19 to get permission from his political boss before taking action to protect Manitoba lives.
And that, according to a professor in both the faculty of law and the school of medicine at the University of Ottawa, is a problem for chief public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin.
"Your province has clipped Dr. Roussin’s wings," Amir Attaran told the Free Press Thursday.
Roussin's counterparts in Ontario, Alberta and B.C. are not saddled with the same legislative restrictions, the outspoken lawyer and scientist noted.
"Manitoba has a deeply inferior public-health law," Attaran said.
The Public Health Act requires Roussin to obtain Health Minister Cameron Friesen's approval before taking measures to protect the health and safety of Manitobans.
"The chief public health officer must not issue a direction or order... without first obtaining the minister's approval," the act reads.
A spokesperson in Friesen's office disputed any suggestion that Roussin is handcuffed by the law.
"Every public-health order put on the Minister’s desk" has been signed by Friesen, the spokesperson wrote in an email to the Free Press.
"Manitoba takes its lead from the chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin."
At a joint press conference with Roussin Thursday announcing tightened restrictions on retail sales and household gatherings, Premier Brian Pallister insisted that the doctor's health advice was being followed.
"Dr. Roussin and I and our leadership team work together on every single measure." – Premier Brian Pallister
"Dr. Roussin and I and our leadership team work together on every single measure," the premier said. "We’ve done that since the beginning of the pandemic, we’ll continue to do that. And I would emphasize we are united in fighting COVID.
"So, I would emphasize to those who choose to try to put light between Dr. Roussin and I, or anyone else in our leadership team, that that’s not helpful and that type of divisiveness is counter to our focus (on the) need to work together to fight COVID."
Thursday, NDP Leader Wab Kinew introduced Bill 216, which would amend the province’s public health act, removing the clause requiring ministerial approval of the chief public health officer’s actions.
"It’s clear that the best strategy for fighting the COVID pandemic needs to be led by medical experts not politicians," said Kinew.
Sarah Lawrynuik reports on climate change for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press climate change reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.