Christopher Scott, owner of the Whistle Stop Café, speaks during a May rally against measures taken by government and health authorities to curb the spread of COVID-19. Scott’s protests were before the courts a number of times in 2022. (File photo by The Canadian Press)

Christopher Scott, owner of the Whistle Stop Café, speaks during a May rally against measures taken by government and health authorities to curb the spread of COVID-19. Scott’s protests were before the courts a number of times in 2022. (File photo by The Canadian Press)

2022 Year in Review: Numerous pandemic-related cases hit the courts in 2022

Mirror anti-lockdown activist saw contempt of court sanctions set aside in a notable case

A number of charges related to violating pandemic-related health orders wound their way through the justice system in 2022.

In July, an Alberta appeal court has set aside contempt of court sanctions for Mirror café-owner and anti-lockdown activist Christopher Scott.

Scott was found guilty of contempt of court in June 2021 for defying a court injunction and organizing and attending a rally that drew hundreds of people outside of his Whistle Stop Café on May 8, 2021.

Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Adam Germain said during sentencing that Scott organized the rally in “open defiance” of a pre-emptive May 6 injunction from Associate Chief Justice John Rooke.

Scott was sentenced to three days in jail, satisfied by time already served in custody, fined $31,000, put on probation for 18 months, given 120 hours of community service and ordered not to leave Alberta. He was also ordered to read from a script prepared by Germain when discussing Covid-19 in public or on social media. The statement acknowledges that his views to do not represent those held by most medical experts.

In his appeal, Scott argued that his sanctions were “excessive and disproportionate” and the ban on travel outside of Alberta violated his “rights to mobility and freedom of expression under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

He also objected to the speech provision, saying it violated his rights and was not requested by Alberta Health Services.

The appeals court said the judge should have given the defendants an opportunity to address the travel ban and speech provisions, which had not been raised by the parties involved. The court also agreed the speech provision violated his rights.

In a separate case, Scott is due back in Red Deer court on Jan. 16 to continue a trial started in August.

Scott is facing nine charges laid under the Alberta Health Act, as well as a pair of other charges related to operating his café when his licence was suspended.

Scott was charged after health inspectors and RCMP officers made numerous visits between January and April 2021 to check on his restaurant after he had been warned he was violating health orders in place at the time prohibiting in-person dining.

During the trial, Scott’s lawyer requested Alberta Health Services documents related to the case. AHS said at the time it would take weeks to get the necessary information and the case was adjourned until January.

The case goes back to court on Jan. 16, 2023.

An Innisfail barbershop owner who was fined $500 for tearing down a COVID-19 public health notice on her business said in June she does not regret her protest.

Natalie Klein, owner of Bladez 2 Fadez Barbershop, pleaded guilty to removing a January 2021 public health notice in Red Deer provincial court on June 2, 2022 and was fined $500. A ticket for disobeying a health order issued at the same time was dropped by the provincial Crown prosecutor.

Klein does not regret taking a stand.

“In hindsight, I’d still do it a thousand times over again to keep my business. In the grand scheme of things, $500 is a small price to pay to keep my business.

“What wouldn’t you do to save your business and feed your family — right?”

Klein was one of a number of Central Alberta business owners who protested what they saw as overly restrictive COVID health restrictions that threatened the livelihoods of small businesses relying on walk-in customers, such as restaurants, hair salons and similar personal service providers.

Also in June, a trial was set for a former Innisfail town councillor charged after an alleged altercation at a rally.

On Feb. 3, RCMP were monitoring a Freedom Convoy rally travelling from Eckville to Sylvan Lake. As the convoy travelled through Sylvan Lake, a pickup pulled in front, blocking the convoy.

The lead participant of the convoy approached the driver of the pickup and an alleged altercation ensued. As a result of an investigation into the incident, RCMP have charged the lead participant of the convoy, Glen Daniel Carritt, 56, of Innisfail, with assault and mischief.

Carritt, who was a mayoral candidate for Innisfail in the last municipal election, has a trial scheduled in Jan. 10 in Red Deer provincial court.

Additional provincial charges were laid including a charge for failing to yield to pedestrian under the Rules of the Road Regulation to the driver of the vehicle which blocked the convoy.

Meanwhile, in July charges were stayed against a Red Deer who was charged in the Coutts blockade in February.

Luke Berk, 63, saw his matters stayed during a Lethbridge court appearance on July 12, 2022. A stay means the Crown is not proceeding with the case, although it can be revived within a year, something that rarely happens.

Berk was charged with possession of a weapon for a dangerous purpose and mischief over $5000 in the two-and-a-half week long protest against COVID-19 restrictions and government health mandates.

Berk was among 11 individuals initially arrested at Coutts, AB on Feb. 14, 2022, after Alberta RCMP said they became aware of a small organized group within the larger Coutts protest that had access to a cache of firearms with a large quantity of ammunition.

In October, charges of breaching pandemic health restrictions have been dropped against one of the organizers of an anti-lockdown rodeo held near Bowden in May 2021.

Ty and Gail Northcott and their company Northcott Rodeo Inc. were named in a summons on May 10, 2021 for violating Section 73(1) of the Public Health Act for holding their “No More Lockdowns” rodeo on private land near Bowden on May 1-2 in contravention of health restrictions in place at the time prohibiting large public gatherings.

Crown prosecutor Peter Mackenzie dropped the charge against Gail Northcott.

The trial resumed on Dec. 20 with the Crown prosecutor calling two witnesses, an RCMP officer and an AHS public health inspector. The defence called no witnesses.

The case comes back to court on June 21, at which time the lawyers expect to hear the results of a case in which the constitutionality of the province’s chief medical officer of health’s public health orders was challenged.

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