SASKATOON – The Crown has dropped a public health order ticket against Maxime Bernier for not wearing a mask during an election rally in Saskatoon and a ticket against Tamara Lavoie for participating in an outdoor protest in Milden.
Bernier – the leader of the People’s Party of Canada – was charged after the PPC held an election night rally in Saskatoon Sept. 20, 2021. Bernier had greeted supporters at the event and spoke without a face mask. Weeks later, on Oct. 8, 2021, the Saskatoon Police mailed Bernier a ticket for failing to wear a face covering in an enclosed setting.
The Crown, however, has now sent a letter to Bernier advising him that the charge was being withdrawn, said the Justice Centre Tuesday. Constitutional lawyers from the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms based out of Calgary, Alta., have been representing Bernier and Lavoie.
“We will continue to defend to the full extent of the law those charged with peacefully exercising their constitutional rights and freedoms,” said Justice Centre lawyer Marty Moore. “The charges against Mr. Bernier and Ms. Lavoie are just two of dozens of charges that prosecutors have had to drop against our clients for allegedly violating oppressive Covid restrictions.”
Bernier still faces charge out of Milden
Bernier still faces a public health order violation charge for attending an outdoor protest and political gathering in Milden on May 10, 2021, in support of the Milden Hotel. The hotel had been shut down by Saskatchewan Health Authority for allegedly not enforcing the requirement to wear face masks. Bernier and seven others, including Mark Friesen, Laura Lynn Thompson, Christine Brown, Conrad Goodsir, Tamara Lavoie, Luiz Penteado, and Brent Wintringhan were charged in that incident.
Their trial started in Outlook circuit court Monday and adjourned Tuesday.
The Crown, however, dropped the charge against Lavoie Monday after police officers testifying couldn’t positively identify her in court.
Under cross examination by Lavoie’s lawyers from the Justice Centre, the witnesses admitted that their knowledge of Lavoie’s identity originated from their trial preparations after the fact, rather than from personal knowledge or recollection of the actual event.
“The Crown must provide reliable evidence that connects and identifies the defendant who is accused of an offence, without a reasonable doubt,” said Marty Moore, Justice Centre lawyer on Tuesday. “This requirement protects citizens against wrongful conviction at the hands of the state, which possesses vast resources. Where the defendant cannot be identified, she or he must be acquitted.”
During the trial, the provincial prosecutors argued that there was a Public Health Order at the time outlawing outdoor gatherings of more than 10 people and that the gathering had more than 10 participants.
The trial is now adjourned until Oct. 4 when expert witnesses retained by both the prosecution and the Justice Centre will be questioned on the effectiveness and necessity of restricting outdoor gatherings.
16 other trials in Saskatchewan
Lawyers from the Justice Centre are also defending individuals at 16 other trials currently scheduled across Saskatchewan. In each case the defendants are charged with attending outdoor protests against government Covid restrictions.
Moore pointed out that no charges or tickets are known to have been issued against other protesting groups, including those for Black Lives Matter, which held protests in violation of public health orders.
Constitutional challenge of Covid restrictions
In April 2021, lawyers from the Justice Centre filed a constitutional challenge in Saskatoon Court of Queen’s Bench on the restrictions of outdoor protests imposed by the province’s public health orders. The challenge will be argued in Saskatoon June 29.
In the filed court document, the Justice Centre alleges that prohibiting outdoor protests in excess of 10 people violates the freedoms of thought, belief, opinion and expression, peaceful assembly and association, guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.