ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — The province of Newfoundland and Labrador was justified in banning most travel from other provinces because of the COVID-19 pandemic, a provincial Supreme Court judge ruled on Thursday.
Halifax resident Kim Taylor sued the Newfoundland and Labrador government after she was initially denied an exemption to the province's travel ban after her mother died in St. John's in early May.
Lawyers for Taylor and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, which was granted intervener status in the case, argued that province had overstepped its authority and violated Taylor's charter rights.
Justice Donald Burrage agreed that Taylor's right to mobility was infringed, but he found that it was a justified response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"While restrictions on personal travel may cause mental anguish to some, and certainly did so in the case of Ms. Taylor, the collective benefit to the population as a whole must prevail," the judge wrote. "COVID-19 is a virulent and potentially fatal disease. In the circumstances of this case, Ms. Taylor’s charter right to mobility must give way to the common good."
The province ultimately granted Taylor an exemption on May 16, eight days after the initial denial, a decision she has said came too late to allow her to properly grieve with her family.
While lawyers representing Taylor and the CCLA argued that Newfoundland and Labrador's mandatory two-week quarantine was sufficient to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the province, the judge said the province had provided "compelling evidence of the effectiveness of the travel restriction."
"When it comes to reducing the risk of COVID-19 through importation," Burrage wrote, "I am satisfied that self-isolation, testing and contact tracing are not a reasonable substitute for the travel restriction."
John Haggie, Newfoundland and Labrador’s Minister of Health and Community Services said that while government lawyers still have to review the decision, he is happy with the results.
"I think at a high level, we achieved what we needed to keep the people of this province safe," he told reporters Thursday afternoon, citing the fact that there is currently just one active case of COVID-19 in the province.
"This wasn't something we wanted to do, it's something we felt we had to do," he said. "It's gratifying that the court has validated that approach."
The CCLA said it would have to review the decision before deciding whether to appeal it to the province’s top court.
However, Michael Bryant, the organization's executive director, was pleased with some elements of the ruling.
"The court is requiring that governments must justify any travel ban with reference to necessity and proportionality," he said. "They can't just bring it in because it's something they want to bring in."
Taylor’s lawyer, John Drover, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In July, Newfoundland and Labrador relaxed its travel ban and allowed residents of other Atlantic provinces to enter.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 17, 2020.
— Written by Jacob Serebrin in Montreal
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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.