Top public health official in CK dealing with backlash and protests

A family gathers for dinner. File photo courtesy of © Can Stock Photo / famveldman

A Chatham lawyer is challenging the authority of the local medical officer of health to order capacity limits on private homes.

Steve Pickard claims Chatham-Kent Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Colby didn’t have the authority to regulate private dwellings when he ordered capacity limits to drop from 25 to 10 beginning on Friday. Colby issued a letter Monday night announcing the capacity reduction because COVID-19 cases are rising and he wants to slow the spread of the virus.

Pickard said Colby didn’t state an immediate threat for the order and he doesn’t believe the new capacity restrictions will be enforceable or effective in slowing down the spread of the virus.

“He can issue orders, but his right to issue an order is limited by an immediate threat that’s identifiable for an outbreak and there is no identifiable immediate threat in his letter,” said Pickard. “The HPPA (Health Protection and Promotion Act) requires him, if he’s going to issue an instruction under that section, to give his reasons why there’s an immediate threat and that wasn’t done. It specifically says in Section 22 of the HPPA that if he doesn’t give those reasons, then the order is not effective.”

Pickard admitted Colby has some extra authority under Section 22 of the Act, but those orders are for businesses and organizations that are open to the public and don’t pertain to gatherings in private dwellings.

Pickard added he is not advocating for people to disobey the law, but he will not be observing what he calls “Dr. Colby’s illegal instruction” because it doesn’t bear any weight in law. He said he will enjoy the holidays with his family and friends at home, in accordance with Ontario law.

“In order to lay a charge, they obviously have to have reasonable and probable grounds and I don’t know how they could have that if they didn’t come into your house and start counting people. You can’t just walk into somebody’s house, they would have to get a warrant. I don’t know how many warrants the Chatham-Kent police are going to go find to go into people’s homes to count the number of people to lay a charge and I don’t think those warrants would be granted in any case. I’m certainly not consenting to anyone coming into my house to count people,” he said.

Meanwhile, Dr. Colby had some protesters show up outside of his home Tuesday night. Protester Liz Vallee said Colby was served with so-called  “liability papers” because she claims the people of Chatham-Kent aren’t happy with him or his public safety measures during the pandemic.

“Enough already. Stop messing with people’s lives. This isn’t right man. It’s time to stand up for yourselves people. Stop putting up with this madness,” said Vallee, adding it’s time to say something.

Several protesters showed up with “Freedom of Choice” signs and chanted “shame, shame, shame” several times.

Dr. Colby said he does have the authority to limit private gatherings in Chatham-Kent under the Health Protection Act and a clarification on the issue will be coming on Wednesday afternoon.

He said he is not doing interviews on Wednesday and will respond to questions at the weekly COVID-19 teleconference on Thursday, adding he has a job to do and doesn’t want to give protesters any more attention than they deserve.