The organizer of a central Alberta anti-lockdown rodeo in 2021 has been found guilty of violating a public health order.
Red Deer Justice Jim Hunter found Ty Northcott and his company Northcott Rodeo Inc. violated Alberta’s Public Health Act on May 1, 2021 by holding the No More Lockdowns Rodeo Rally to protest pandemic-related heath restrictions on his property south of Bowden. At the time, large gatherings of more than 10 people, such as concerts and sporting events, were banned to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
An RCMP officer who went to Northcott’s property on May 1 after traffic began backing up on the nearby highway estimated about 1,300 people were gathered there for the rodeo. He spoke with Ty Northcott, who said he was aware of the health restrictions then in place.
Hunter said he was satisfied that Northcott knew the event he was holding was not allowed at the time.
In March 2021, Alberta Health Services began receiving public complaints about the rodeo after seeing advertising for the event, including on Facebook. Public health inspectors contacted Northcott in late March by email and over the phone and warned him that his proposed event was prohibited.
However, it went ahead on May 1-2. Ty, his wife Gail Northcott and their company were charged on May 7 with violating the Public Health Act. Charges were later withdrawn against Gail.
In closing submissions last month, defence lawyer Lauren Wowk argued that Crown prosecutor Peter Mackenzie had failed to prove within a reasonable doubt that a rodeo had taken place and that Northcott was the organizer.
The presence of cattle, horses and bleachers as observed by an RCMP did not prove that a rodeo was taking place. While the officer discussed health mandates with Northcott at the site, specific mandates were not identified.
Hunter said a “reasonable inference” could be made from the evidence that a rodeo was planned even if the officer did not see one taking place. As to mandates, it was “common knowledge” at the time that those referred to the health restrictions in place, he said.
The Northcott case is not over. A constitutional challenge remains unresolved.
Hanging over the case, and most of the others involving pandemic-related charges for disobeying public health orders is an ongoing constitutional challenge to the orders.
That case involves Calgary gym owner Rebecca Marie Ingram, Heights Baptist Church, Northside Baptist Church, Erin Blacklaws and Torry Tanner, who are challenging the constitutionality of pandemic public health orders.
They allege Alberta’s public health orders are contrary to the Alberta Bill of Rights, unjustifiably limit Charter-protected rights and are unlawful.
The Justice Centre of Constitutional Freedoms is involved in that case and has provided legal counsel for the Northcotts. The centre bills itself as a “federally registered Canadian charity which fights for the Constitutional Freedoms of all Canadians by funding legal representation and by educating Canadians about the free society.”
Mackenzie told the judge there has been no further update on when a decision in the Ingram case might be coming. Lawyers in the Crown prosecutors office have discussed the long delay and believe the best route to take is to go ahead and argue the constitutional issues even without the Ingram ruling.
Wowk said the defence was prepared to make its constitutional argument but would prefer to wait for Ingram, which “would be a monumental decision for either side.”
The case returns to court on Aug. 31 to deal with the constitutional challenge.