Shandro introduces bill to walk back controversial emergency health powers

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The bill sparked public concerns about government overreach, and continued to draw negative public feedback after a special committee was struck to look at the Public Health Act and its amendments.

Bill 66 also goes beyond public concerns about Bill 10 by addressing chronic disease and preventable injuries in the Public Health Act, which speaks only to communicable diseases, to help the province’s do more to prevent chronic disease.

Shandro said that other provinces refer to health promotion and disease prevention in their legislation, but that was missing in Alberta’s. He said it would allow the chief medical officer of health to better monitor and take action on chronic illnesses like diabetes.

If the bill passes, Albertans who use inhalants as an intoxicant will no longer be fined for their addiction.

Shandro has said Bill 10 was passed out of concern the legislative assembly might not be able to meet to respond to the pandemic. However, since the assembly sat for 52 days, passing 34 bills before the end of the spring sitting on July 29, it didn’t need extra powers.

“And this was all done without the need to use the expanded authorities that were included in Bill 10,” said Shandro.

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF) filed a legal challenge to Bill 10 in April, arguing it was unconstitutional to give one minister the unilateral power to create new laws without the checks and balances of the legislature during a public health emergency.

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The government struck a special legislative committee to examine the Public Health Act last June, but it dismissed much of its advice. In its report, committee members recommended that the government should increase transparency around the new powers during a public health emergency, including better defining the terms “public interest” and “extraordinary circumstances” — but did not recommend scrapping the powers altogether.

The committee received nearly 400 written submissions from members of the public concerned about the powers granted to ministers and the chief medical officer of health during a public health emergency, mainly arguing that those powers represent an overreach of government authority that infringes on individual freedoms.

Of 636 written submissions to the committee, 41 expressed concern about the Public Health Act’s clause granting the government mandatory vaccination power.

Chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw told the committee that she was unaware of Alberta ever having ordered mandatory vaccinations.

Some of the committee’s other recommendations were also dismissed, including affirming individual rights in the Health Act because the Alberta Bill of Rights takes precedence.

The recommendation to review the Public Health Act every five years was also rejected. Instead, if Bill 66 passes, the act must be reviewed every 10 years.

More to come…

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