Hinshaw not protected by cabinet confidentiality, judge rules

“The public interest in disclosing Dr. Hinshaw’s responses to the questions posed by the court outweighs the public interest in keeping the evidence confidential,” Judge Barbara Romaine stated in the ruling.

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Alberta’s chief medical officer of health cannot claim cabinet confidentiality to avoid disclosing some of her closed-door recommendations on COVID-19 restrictions, a judge ruled.

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That ruling came amid a court proceeding whose plaintiffs argue that Alberta’s pandemic public health orders overseen by Dr. Deena Hinshaw violated constitutional rights.

In a decision issued Tuesday, the answers to three questions posed by Queen’s Court Judge Barbara Romaine regarding Hinshaw’s discussions with government leaders must be made public, contrary to the defense argument that they are protected by cabinet immunity.

“In the context of this specific evidence and this specific case, the public interest in disclosing Dr. Hinshaw’s responses to the questions posed by the court outweighs the public interest in keeping the evidence confidential,” Romaine stated in the written ruling. seven pages.

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“I consider that, whether or not the evidence falls within the scope of public interest immunity, it is admissible as relevant and necessary to fairly dispose of this case and to assist the Court in determining the facts upon which it will rely. the decision in the case. to depend.”

Romaine had asked Hinshaw if Prime Minister Jason Kenney or cabinet members had ever directed him to impose harsher restrictions than he had recommended, or to impose stricter measures on specific groups such as churches, gyms or small businesses in against his advice.

He also asked Hinshaw if he had ever recommended the restrictions be relaxed and whether that advice had been rejected or ignored by the cabinet.

Government lawyers objected to those questions, arguing that entering their responses into the court record would harm the public interest by having a chilling effect on what would be discussed in future cabinet meetings.

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“The precedent impact of being forced to disclose confidential cabinet discussions in this context could impede the free flow of future cabinet discussions, which would negatively affect the democratic governance of the province of Alberta,” Romaine’s ruling stated, citing an argument introduced by then – Acting Attorney General Sonya Savage.

It also noted that the plaintiffs, who include the Heights Baptist Church and the Northside Baptist Church and business owners, argued that withholding Hinshaw’s answers is an attempt to “use this form of privilege to protect the Alberta government from accusations of political interference with respect to decisions made under the Public Health Law.”

While Romaine concluded that there are cases where cabinet secrecy is a valid tool, in this case it is not, given the limited governance implications disclosure would have and the importance of the case.

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“The questions Dr. Hinshaw was asked and the answers she gave do not reveal disagreements between ministers or the views of individual ministers,” Romaine wrote.

“They do not disclose the details of their recommendations. Therefore, the content of their responses weighs in favor of disclosure.”

Lawyers for the provincial government have said they will appeal a ruling ordering the release of the answers.

It is not known when those responses will be released in court.

Hinshaw has repeatedly cited Cabinet confidentiality in refusing to answer reporters’ questions about what public health measures he recommended to the Cabinet during the pandemic, which began in March 2020.

He argued in court that his public health orders were a “last resource” necessary to protect people from the coronavirus and maintain the viability of the health care system.

Hinshaw has also denied plaintiffs’ claims that measures such as mask wearing and restrictions on public gatherings have had no effect on health.

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Twitter: @BillKaufmannjrn

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