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Smith explores changes to block future school mask mandates


Alberta premier says she ‘will no longer allow child masking warrants’ in schools following a court ruling on the government’s decision to drop and block such warrants .

Earlier this week, Alberta’s Court of King’s Bench ruled that the government’s decision to block school boards from imposing their own mask mandates after provincial mandates were dropped “was made for the purpose of inappropriate”.

Judge GS Dunlop presided over the case, noting that while Chief Medical Officer Dr Deena Hinshaw issued the public health order, it was simply to implement “a cabinet decision” rather than to be his own decision.

Decisions on public health prescriptions must be made by the best doctor in the province, Dunlop said.

On Saturday, Premier Danielle Smith released a statement saying she had directed the Justice Minister to assess whether an appeal of Thursday’s decision was appropriate.

“(I have) asked our government’s justice, health and education ministers to alert me to any legislative or regulatory changes that may be necessary to reaffirm or clarify the full authority of our government in this about this and other health and education issues,” Smith said. .

“The detrimental effects of masking on the mental health, development and education of children in the classroom are well understood, and we must turn the page on what has been an extremely difficult time for children, as well as their parents and their teachers.”

The court’s decision was hailed by Alberta Federation of Labor president Gil McGowan.

“The judge was very clear that the decision-maker, in matters of public health, is the chief medical officer of health,” he said. “The court has made it clear that she decides.”

In a statement on Saturday, McGowan said the AFL launched the legal challenge to protect the health and safety of children and frontline workers during the ongoing pandemic.

“The court ruled that public health decisions should be made by experts, not conspiratorial politicians,” he added.

EXPECT A CHANGE IN REGULATIONS OR LEGISLATION

A legal challenge to the decision is unlikely, an assistant law professor told CTV News Edmonton.

“It is clear from Justice Dunlop’s decision that she is able to limit mask wearing in schools without appealing,” said Lorian Hardcastle of the University of Calgary. “I think it’s likely that she’ll just pass the necessary regulations.”

“The other reason I don’t think she wants to appeal this case is that the government has been successful on the Charter issue, and if this case is reopened, then the argument that not having a mask in schools discriminates against children who have health conditions that make COVID particularly risky for them,” Hardcastle said.

Hardcastle believes the province will draft new government regulations, which can be created by the issuing ministry and would not have to pass three readings like a new bill.

“In the Education Act, it is clear that school boards have the authority to implement policies to protect the safety and health of children and their staff,” she added. “But there is room in this legislation for the Minister for Education to implement a regulation which limits the ability of schools to regulate on this issue.”

Another option, Hardcastle says, is for the health minister to review current rules governing public health orders to limit the power of the chief medical officer or so he doesn’t have the final say.

‘MAKE SPACE FOR OTHERS TO MAKE DECISIONS TOO’

While Smith thinks masks have harmful effects on children, Hardcastle disagrees.

“That has to be weighed against the detrimental effect of children getting COVID,” she said.

For a government claiming to want to reduce bureaucracy, Hardcastle argues that creating new regulations would add to government bureaucracy. This could be detrimental, she adds, especially since situations involving public health can be fluid in the province and require the assistance of several authorities.

“Schools know their populations. Schools pose very different risks. So one school board may have very different school and community COVID rates than another,” Hardcastle said. “So I think the government needs to leave room for others to make decisions as well, or at the very least to collaborate.”

CTV News Edmonton has reached out to Smith for further comment.

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