Travel Mandate Hearing: Right to Leave Country Is ‘Inalienable,’ Says Lawyer

Travel Mandate Hearing: Right to Leave Country Is ‘Inalienable,’ Says Lawyer
An Air Canada plane prepares to land at Vancouver International Airport, in Richmond, B.C., on Dec. 26, 2021. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)
Noé Chartier

In court on Sept. 21, a lawyer from Quebec representing himself tried to fend off an attempt by the attorney general to declare moot his lawsuit against the travel vaccine mandate, saying Canadians have the “inalienable” right to leave the country.

“I live with the daily worry to be again confined to Canada without being able to leave, and without the issue being assessed by a tribunal,” said Quebec lawyer Nabil Belkacem in federal court in Ottawa.

He said if the case is not allowed to go forward, it would send the message the government is “untouchable.”

The mandate imposed by the Liberal government from October 2021 to June 2022 meant that unvaccinated Canadians were not allowed to board a plane, train, and some ships from within Canada.

Adding the U.S. border rules preventing unvaccinated foreigners from entering, millions of Canadians were technically trapped inside the country.

Belkacem, along with applicants in three other lawsuits being jointly processed, attempted to convince Justice Jocelyne Gagné to dismiss the attorney general’s motion to have their suits declared moot.

The Justice Department brought the motion forward after the federal government let the vaccine mandate interim order expire on June 20.

Belkacem told the judge that Canadians who were not affected by the “segregation” have trouble grasping the significance of the issue.

“Never again I want to be jailed” in the country, said the lawyer.

Crown counsel J. Sanderson Graham argued that the vaccine mandate no longer exists as law.

Attorney Keith Wilson with the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedom (JCCF), who is representing former Newfoundland premier Brian Peckford and his co-applicants, said they are not challenging the law, but rather the executive orders that put in place the mandates.

The orders were issued pursuant to sections of the Aeronautics Act and Railway Safety Act, which allow the government to issue directives to entities in order to mitigate a threat, in this case COVID-19.
The challengers also argued that even though the interim order has expired, government strategy and messaging have indicated the mandates could be brought back if deemed necessary.

Lawyer Sam Presvelos, who is representing businessmen Shaun Rickard and Karl Harrison, told the judge there was no evidence the mandates will not be brought back.

Crown counsel Robert Drummond countered there is also no evidence that they will.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Sept. 1 that increasing COVID-19 booster uptake was important to avoid the “problematic” restrictions of the past years.
Official documents revealed during the legal proceedings show the government used the mandates to drive vaccine uptake.

Among other arguments brought by the Crown, Graham said the court should not rule on the constitutionality of mandates to not have a “deleterious” effect on future cases, that applicants have already received the “only proper remedy available” by now being allowed to travel, and that scarce judicial resources should not be expended on the issue.

People’s Party Leader Maxime Bernier, who is also part of the legal action and who attended the court hearing, said the mandates were “unethical, unconstitutional, and unscientific” in a video posted on social media after the hearing.

“We need to make sure these restrictions will never be reimposed on any Canadian,” he said.

One of Bernier’s arguments in his case is that he was prevented from exercising his duties as a political leader during the mandate, being unable to travel across Canada to carry out activities.

“Public health measures became a gag of activities meant to criticize the public health measures,” Bernier’s lawyer Samuel Bachand told the court. “It's a vicious cycle.”

Justice Gagné did not say at the end of the hearing when she would give her decision.