Legal battle to lift Alberta school mask mandate returns to court


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Lawyers for the families of five immunocompromised Alberta children say children’s Charter rights were violated when the province ended masking in schools and prevented school boards from enforcing their own mandates.

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Six months after the school mask mandate died, the issue was back in court on Wednesday as the Alberta Federation of Labor (AFL) and a group of families seek a judicial review of the decision.

The legal fight has continued since Court of Queen’s Bench Judge Grant Dunlop denied an emergency request in February seeking to restore the power of school authorities to create their own mask mandates.

  1. Alberta's Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw.

    Newly released documents show government decision-making on easing COVID-19 restrictions

  2. Most students leaving Austin O'Brien High School to board a bus wearing masks on Monday, Feb. 14, 2022, even thought the provincial mandate to wear a mask in schools had been stopped.

    Judge denies part of request to reinstate mandatory mask wearing in Alberta schools, rest of case to be heard later

Last month nearly 300 pages of government documents were made public, including a PowerPoint presentation prepared by Chief Medical Officer Dr Deena Hinshaw with three options on how COVID-19 restrictions could be lifted .

The documents show the committee moved forward with Option 2, which is much of the three-step plan Premier Jason Kenney publicly announced on Feb. 8. But plans for masks in schools appear to have changed at some point in the meeting, moving from a March 1 timeline outlined in the PowerPoint to February 14.

After the plan to lift public health restrictions was rolled out, Education Minister Adriana LaGrange said in a letter to school authorities that they would also not have the power to require students to wear face masks. class or on the school bus.

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Lawyers Sharon Roberts and Orlagh O’Kelly argued that the decision about masking in schools was made by the government for ‘political purposes’ instead of being properly informed by Hinshaw and medical evidence.

They discussed their candidacy all day Wednesday, with a response from lawyers representing the government expected on Thursday.

The request does not seek to restore the mask mandate, but the court could find that the government breached a legal obligation, among other legal remedies.

In an earlier statement to Postmedia, Health Minister Jason Copping’s press secretary Steve Buick denied that the cabinet committee ignored or overruled the recommendations, reiterating that options for lifting restrictions were presented uniformly without an option recommended.

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“With respect to school masking, we have made a reasonable decision considering the available evidence on the benefits and harms of mandatory school masking, including a wide range of expert recommendations and practices in d ‘other jurisdictions,’ he said.

The judicial review application says that because the children’s medical diagnoses and disabilities make them more vulnerable to serious consequences if they catch COVID, without the mask mandate, they were forced to choose between going to the school or protect their health.

The children at the center of the lawsuits each have multiple medical vulnerabilities ranging from a neuromuscular disorder to epilepsy and severe asthma. Some have missed a significant amount of in-person school since mask requirements were lifted, and parents have relied on masking as another layer of protection against infection.

« These children deserve equal access to education, » O’Kelly said.

« Why should children with disabilities or medical vulnerabilities settle for online learning? » »

— With files by Ashley Joannou


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