While Alberta Premier Danielle Smith fulminates about Alberta Health Services’ enforcement of public health measures during the pandemic, the Alberta Court of King’s Bench has upheld $80,000 in fines against an Edmonton church and one of its pastors for refusing entry to an AHS public health inspector six times in March and June 2021. 

Pastor Tracy Fortin, right, and her husband and co-pastor Rodney Fortin (Photo: Church in the Vine).

In a written decision released Friday, Court of King’s Bench Justice Melanie Hayes-Richards tossed out an appeal of the judgment in its entirety, upholding both the conviction of the Church in the Vine and co-pastor Tracy Fortin and the fines of $65,000 and $15,000 levied against them.

This decision is arguably good news for the rule of law in Alberta, although it could turn out to be bad news for Alberta Health Services. 

Premier Smith has already vowed to restructure the provincial health authority, fire its governing board, and get rid of senior managers who implemented public health measures during the pandemic to slow the spread of COVID-19. While there is no way for Premier Smith to force the Court of King’s Bench to bend to her will, its decision is unlikely to dampen her determination to punish AHS and its leaders for doing their jobs. 

The church and Pastor Fortin appealed the sentence handed down by Provincial Court Judge Shelagh Creagh in July this year. They were found guilty in May by the same judge for violating the provincial Public Health Act when Pastor Fortin refused to let the inspector into the building to observe whether COVID-19 social distancing and masking rules were being obeyed. 

In her written sentencing decision in July, Judge Creagh called the actions of the church and pastor “deliberate and intentional.”

Court of King’s Bench Justice Melanie Hayes-Richards (Photo: Alberta Court of King’s Bench).

Represented by lawyer James Kitchen from a group called Liberty Coalition Canada – which describes itself as offering “a clarion Christian conservative analysis of current events to diagnose the breakdown of liberty in Canada” – Ms. Fortin and the church argued the trial judge erred when she summarily dismissed their Charter application, was personally biased by the COVID-19 pandemic and thus failed to take into account evidence pertaining to their right to religious freedom, and made other errors.

I am not a lawyer and would be loath to comment on the legal technicalities of the case, but as a layperson it seemed to me Justice Hayes-Richards demolished the appellants’ arguments one after another and wrote a decision of the sort technically known in legal circles as a “slam-dunk” for the trial judge and prosecution. 

Ms. Smith, meanwhile, has been musing in recent days that she would like to issue pardons for individuals and institutions fined for breaking pandemic restrictions as if she were a U.S. state governor. Well, perhaps she thinks she is one. 

Meanwhile, Premier Smith’s apparent determination to pursue a vendetta against AHS does not appear to extend to her justice minister, Tyler Shandro, who served the Kenney government as health minister at the time the AHS inspector was trying to get into the Church in the Vine.

Nor has it affected the standing of her health minister, Jason Copping, who was also former premier Jason Kenney’s health minister from September 2021 until Ms. Smith was sworn in as premier. 

Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Irrigation Jason Hale (Photo: Alberta Government).

Just last week Mr. Copping said the United Conservative Party Government would consider new health measures if COVID flared up again. “You can never say never,” he told a reporter. Ms. Smith, however, said never. 

Likewise, in a shuffle of the government’s top civil servants yesterday that was made necessary by Ms. Smith’s huge new cabinet, the deputy minister of health appointed to that position in May 2021, Paul Wynnyk, was left in that role. 

So, go figure!

Also named to the post of deputy minister of agriculture and irrigation yesterday was Jason Hale, a mostly unremarkable Wildrose MLA who crossed the floor of the Legislature with Ms. Smith in December 2014 to join the Progressive Conservative Party.

Alert readers will recall that gambit did not seem to work out very well at the time.

The southern Alberta rancher was first elected in in the 2012 as the MLA for Strathmore-Brooks. He decided soon after the floor crossing not to seek re-election in the 2015 provincial election. 

According to his potted biography posted to the government’s website yesterday, Mr. Hale was once “a professional bull fighter.” 

Olé?

CORRECTION: Paul Wynnyk was appointed in May 2021. Incorrect information appeared in an earlier version of this story. While the author regrets this rather obvious error, sometimes it just just feels like it’s still the 1990s!

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31 Comments

  1. “The southern Alberta rancher was first elected in in the 2012 as the MLA for Strathmore-Brooks. He decided soon after the floor crossing not to seek re-election in the 2015 provincial election.

    According to his potted biography posted to the government’s website yesterday, Mr. Hale was once “a professional bull fighter.”

    Gawd, is this what the Alberta government has become?

    No wonder we’re the laughing-stock of the rest of the continent.

    1. The Alberta government has been headed by the likes of “Bible Bill” Aberthart, Ernest “Eugenics” Manning and Barf Klein. And I would still put Mike “Duffer” Harris and Doug “Slinger” Ford up against any of them in a battle to determine the Premier with the least number of commonly accepted traits of homo sapiens sapiens. The Devine regime in Saskatchewan was essentially a criminal cabal. The Kon governments in the Maritimes would not have been out of place in Mississippi, doing their bit to generate catastrophes like the Westray disaster.
      So, while the current Smith Klown Kabal does gravitate toward the kooky end of the spectrum, it will have to go some to prove itself worthy of the mantle of absurd, degenerate Canadian governments that have plagued us for over a century.

  2. If this was a Federal Court, I suppose this could give Smith an early chance to put her previously stated position to ignore Federal law into action, if she really believes that. Although, who knows what she thinks – some have said she often tends to go with the last thing she is told. Maybe that explains it.

    So perhaps Mr. Shandro and Mr. Copping just had good timing, rather than being especially convincing in saving their jobs. However, I suppose one could see the merit in keeping those around who had some idea what was going on, even if they did often make a mess of it. There is also something to be said for trying to maintain party unity. Perhaps they agreed to disagree, at least for now.

    However, I do feel that Smith and her supporters do still really have it in for AHS and they are going to get their way, regardless whether the Health Minister thinks it is a good idea or not. I suspect Mr. Shandro is somewhat relieved – things could be worse, he could have Mr. Copping’s job.

    I wonder how many of the remaining Kenney Ministers will run for reelection and how many will quietly decide to ride off into the sunset sometime before the next election, which will supposedly be at the end of May 2023, unless Smith changes her mind on that.

  3. I’m guessing this is the part where Danielle Straitjacket has to make good on her promise to pardon and set aside all the charges and fines imposed oppressively on the most oppressed people of all time, Anti-vaxxers, COVID deniers, and the Evangelicals. After all, how can such meek, innocent, and godly people be a threat to anyone? For they are the Lambs of God…yada yada yada.

    Of course, Smith must have some top-flight legal advice that will find some kind of loophole that will assure that Thy Will be done. Failing that, I suppose she could enact some kind of legislation that will assure the primacy of the will of the Legislature of Alberta against the evil globalist empire in Ottawa. Rule by Divine Right? Why not? It hasn’t been used in a while, so it could be considered some kind of innovation. But now that Smith is walking back her earlier claim that the AHS was in the service of the WEF, it’s beginning to look like Smith can’t keep all her conspiracy mindsets in a row. (Herding ducks can be as hard as herding cats.) Was she serious about all her talk about pardons and the like for her favorite people?

    At some point, all of Smith’s running off at the mouth is going to get her into trouble with her base. With this in mind, she may just try something crazy, like asking Sandro to make up a law that gets it all done, for appearance’s sake. Or, start threatening the judges — that always works. I’m not sure if Smith is one to have a gang of gombas to put the hammers to those who refuse to get with the program, but would sure be exciting if she tried.

  4. Danielle Smith is very foolish if she thinks she can ignore any laws she doesn’t like. The court rulings are there for a reason. If she gets out of line, she will be put back in her place. We will still be paying the costs for her senseless battles, just as we are paying for the UCP’s other very pricey shenanigans. Covid-19 rates in Alberta aren’t going down, and Danielle Smith is going to make things worse by not having any sort of restrictions put in place to manage things. The hospital and public healthcare system in Alberta will be overburdened, and collapse, and this is just what Danielle Smith wants to happen, so she can carry on her hero Ralph Klein’s goal of having private for profit healthcare in Alberta. I actually recall hearing about someone who was asked to join the Wildrose party, but when they got wind of how Danielle Smith admired Ralph Klein, they backed off, because they knew just how bad Ralph Klein was for Alberta. We cannot trust these pretend conservatives and Reformers to do the right things. I also did notice at one of Danielle Smith’s more recent party engagements that there were a good deal of seniors in attendance. They are quite easy to fool. It’s ironic to hear Danielle Smith say that she will provide more help to struggling people, such as seniors, and the disenfranchised, like those on AISH, when the UCP were the ones who made cuts to these groups in the first place. Peter Lougheed said it best, when he said that what these people were doing was creating a horrific mess. We certainly have that with Danielle Smith.

  5. DC, great column as always. One minor correction: General Wynnyk was appointed DM of health in May 2021, not 1991. I make the same mistake all the time. I still think “1970” sounds incredibly modern.

    1. Simon: Thanks so much for your forgiving attitude. An incredibly frustrating mistake as I knew the right number was 2021 even as I wrote that. Equally heartening is the number of readers who have quickly corrected me. When you’re performing without a safety net, it’s nice to know folks are there to catch you before you go splat. And, you’re right, 1970 sounds almost futuristic. Check out some time just how little carbon we humans were producing in the 1970s – an era when you could almost feel some hope that things might work out. DJC

    1. Keith: The Church of the Vine probably is a liquor store somewhere or, if it isn’t, ought to be. However, the name of this institution – which I misread the same way on my first draft, is the Church in the Vine, whatever that means. usually I catch Biblican references of this sort, but I’ve missed this one so far. Maybe I’ll take a run through the concordance tonight. DJC

  6. What scares me are the off-hand comments like “stealth takeover of the UCP by Wildrose” and “if she tries an O’Toole (ie she moderates her views to attract more voters), she’s gone” and “if the UCP splits, the Buffalo Party is waiting in the wings”. Perhaps the election of TBA adherents to the UCP board was the most important event at the convention?

  7. DJC, are you sure that Paul Wynnyk was appointed DM in 1991? According to https://www.alberta.ca/deputy-ministers-council.aspx, he was appointed in May, 2021.

    Notwithstanding, it is reckless, to say the least, for Danielle Smith to politicize the public service, especially at the DM level. The government and the public are best served by having a professional civil service who can provide informed and expert advice to the government of the day.

    1. Hi Phlogiston. It’s worrisome that Smith seems even more prone to Republican tribalism than Jason Kenney. I wonder who she’ll pick on next, after she vanquishes the Evil AHS Empire?

      Smith may destroy the trust and respect (yeah, I know) between the permanent staff and the governing party. Some of the implications are discussed here:

      https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/opinion-jared-wesley-samuel-clark-danielle-smith-public-service-bargain-1.6578144

      If Queen Dannie follows through with the threats she made pre-coronation, then Smith and the UCP will discover just how much the public servants can do to thwart them. Ironically, the best way to stop UCP stupidity may be to do EXACTLY what Smith et al tell them—and wait for the public outrage.

  8. So, is it just me, or has anyone else noticed that DS,is mimicking DJT…from watching her “speech “,the way she spoke, was like watching a clip of one his rallies…the similarities were rather eerie. So I’m not surprised about her thinking she can issue pardons, install unqualified “loyalists ” into government positions and go after AHS , just like T went after the CDC. So I wonder if she is going to be ready to be booed by her supporters when she fails to get her way?
    IMHO , governor is not a lofty enough position to her way of thinking, since she seems to think in terms of US governance,and considering how many convo-idiot refuseniks were using US terms like 2nd amendment rights and not knowing Canadian law, she is speaking to them.
    And the similarities of the tawdry records of these officials, and the unaccountability is leaving a really bad taste for the future.
    The only appointment that I’m surprised didn’t happen, is she didn’t find a spot for Kevin J…head of travel Alberta?? I had a friend who worked there, he was always on the go from province to province and across the border to the US,
    And just looked up to see the latest headline– Alberta Premier reaffirms plan to scrap information sharing deal with World Economic Forum, so she’s going along with Skippy ..
    Interesting ….
    Governor Evita?? ,nah! Now I’m just being silly, could be lack of coffee…

  9. I keep being reminded about what the former MLAs from the Lougheed era taught me. Don’t ever trust a Reformer they destroy jobs, not create them, and are only interested in looking after their own well-being and that of their rich friends and fellow Reformers. Their only solution to any problem is to blame it on someone else. So apparently Smith thinks COVID is all the fault of the doctors and nurses and it has nothing to do with how these morons handled it. We will be lucky if we have any doctors and nurses left by the time Smith gets done with them. Why would they stay and take this stupid abuse at the hands of Smith and her Reform Party pals and their mindless supporters, mostly seniors, when they can work anywhere they want to? The conservatives in my world have been saying it for years and that includes retired doctors and nurses. These fake conservatives are the worse enemies our doctors and nurses have, it wasn’t this way under Lougheed and Getty when they were collecting proper royalties and taxes and it isn’t happening in Norway and Alaska. The most important people in our lives and these fools offer them absolutely no respect at all. Dad said it best “ You can’t take a plumber and turn him into a doctor over night, so why are we trying to do it with our politicians”. I really doubt that a former bull rider , trying to recover from multiple concussions would make an intelligence politician. Dad was a bareback rider and would never have tried it.

    1. Alan K. Spiller: When Ontario is luring medical professionals to go over there from Alberta, we have a problem – in fact a big problem. Danielle Smith is going to be playing foolish games, like Ralph Klein did, and it will end up costing people their lives. What will Danielle Smith do when she gets sued? I do have relatives who were nurses, when Ralph Klein was doing his cutbacks, and he didn’t make it easy for them. One of my siblings is a RN, and as I recall, one of her colleagues, and a fellow nursing student, was laid off by Ralph Klein. My sibling had to relocate out of Alberta, because of what Ralph Klein did. If I recall correctly, one of my cousins, who was a nurse, was mentioning about the risk of being laid off by Ralph Klein. She is a senior, and has since retired. One of my aunts, a former RN,and also a senior, was talking with my dad, who was a nursing assistant, about the risks from what Ralph Klein was doing. Under Ralph Klein, prospects for nurses looked bad in Alberta. Danielle Smith is going to do the same things, and she doesn’t care who is affected. These pretend conservatives and Reformers just don’t care, and it shows.

  10. Deputy Minister Paul Wynnyk was appointed in May 2021, not 1991. It would be exceedingly rare for a DM to hold the same post for over 30 years under numerous premiers.

    1. Thanks, Gromster. No kidding it would be unusual! That way my mistake and mine alone, a product of writing in a hurry at 1 a.m. I promise you, I knew the relevant year was 2021, and intended to write 2021, when I subtracted a few decades from the tally for reasons unknown. I’m performing without a safety net up here – so I’m always grateful when my readers catch me. It’s been corrected. DJC

  11. DJC, writing @ 1am, answering Dave @3:28 am, are you working on your book at Puskawska (?) National Park?? Inspiration from the group of seven??,
    Thank you for taking time for us!
    As I’ve been teasing my “baby ” sister since she turned 65, don’t forget risk assessment…take care…health is wealth, 7hrs of sleep…

  12. I have to wonder if this was a restaurant instead of a church would Danielle Smith still be attempting to interfere in the justice system. The Executive and the Judiciary are kept very separate in Canada. For good reason.

    I use my spouse as a political bell weather. She ALWAYS votes Conservative/UCP Provincially. I asked her two weeks ago what her choice would be now the Smith is the leader.

    He answer was a very definite no way. She had two reasons. The main reason was Danielle Smith.

    The second was her perception of the performance of the Kenny Government. In particular Ministers Shandro, Madu, LaGrange, and Savage. Not to mention Kenney himself. She was shocked this week to find out that they had made it back into Cabinet. Especially Mr. Please Fix my Ticket.

  13. I suspect that there numerous health care professionals in Alberta who will be waiting for the outcome of the next Provincial election to make a final decision about remaining in Alberta or re-locating elsewhere.

    In the interim some will shop for career opportunities outside of Alberta and will have made a tentative decision.

  14. Now, I might be wrong, but I thought Canada’s governments were supposed to be secular. Quebec governments were openly Catholic until the Quiet Revolution. I suppose other provinces leaned strongly Protestant in earlier times. The point is, those WERE earlier times. The Constitution and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantee equal rights to all. Canadian governments should not, emphatically NOT, play favourites. Today, it shouldn’t need saying that “religious freedom” doesn’t mean you can ignore public health rules; or occupational-safety rules; or public-mischief rules, for that matter.

    Alberta’s noisy evangelical sects (e.g., the preachers who told their flocks to ignore Covid-19 precautions) seem rather isolated; in fact, during the pandemic many pastors and priests were critical of the anti-mask churches.

    Leaving aside the question of whether she can or not (I’d bet “not”), Smith’s bloviating about pardons might well raise concerns about bias in the UCP government. Imagine the uproar when somebody accuses Smith of favouritism or some such, for pardoning a handful of pastors. If the anti-vaxxers want to play the “victim” card, they’ll have a whole deck full before long.

    It looks like another chunk of Smith’s us-against-all strategy: tie yourself to the noisiest splinter group you can find, and pretend you’ll save them from Everyone Else. If Smith truly believes the “poor-pitiful-me” refrain of the anti-vaxxers—so much worse.

    The only upside I can see now is the legal and political restraints of Canadian governance. Legal: Canada’s law system is way less politicized than America’s (despite Libertarian bitching to the contrary). Political: Smith has retained most of Kenney’s cabinet for her own. The old hands will, in self-defense, rein in Smith’s more destructive impulses. We’ll see how long Smith and her fellow-travelers will tolerate hearing “No, you can’t do that here.”

  15. The people of Alberta voted for the UCP Now they can learn to live with it or die because of it. Its just that children can’t vote and they too will die due to lack of medical care and the non regulation efforts of Smith and company.

    The Judges appear to have a better understanding of what ought to happen in Alberta than the politicians. The politicians don’t even seem to care about the law or the health of the population. With out the regulations we had during COVID in the previous years, we would have more dead people and people with long COVID. Does the UCP know how much it costs to provide care for people with Long COVID OR DOes Smith and Co,. plan to offer them the Trudeau exit or simply let them die due to a lack of health care.

    This will not end well.

  16. It would seem that all across Canada, the vast majority of courts that have been faced with challenges of public health decisions, orders, and enforcement powers, have had little patience with people defying the Public Health Act (or equivalent) in their respective provincial & territorial jurisdictions. It seems that while courts are often wont to closely scrutinize the actions of police and other law enforcement agencies, by & large they treat public health inspectors & authorities with a certain degree of deference.

    Perhaps they adhere to the Vulcan* aphorism, “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” … ;-).

    [*not referring here to the town, but the fictitious species from the Star Trek universe]

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