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Calgary Stampede not the only dangerous game in Alberta

published September 23, 2021

Alberta’s rodeo cowboys love living dangerously. Their fans turn out in droves to watch them conquer the beasts bred to buck, gallop or otherwise be roped into the record books.

As rodeo season in the province peaked prior to the Calgary Stampede, Premier Jason Kenney declared that, on the advice of Chief Medical Officer of Health (CMOH) Deena Hinshaw, the government was lifting all COVID-19 orders, in effect giving the infected the right to mingle maskless among the masses.

Watching Dr. Hinshaw defending her recommendation at a news conference reminded me of a scene from Alice in Wonderland. Surely she couldn’t be serious. What kind of pressure was she under, besides the obvious? The Calgary Stampede, which had been cancelled in 2020, came instantly to mind.

Health minister was concerned about reopening plans

From the outset, Alberta’s erstwhile Minister of Health Tyler Shandro expressed reservations about removing the restrictions too quickly. The way he put it, Dr. Hinshaw had come to the government with the plan, not the other way around, and “the government wanted to respect the independence of her position.”

“Alberta’s health minister says it was the idea of the province’s chief medical health officer to end isolation requirements for those who test positive for COVID-19 or who have been in close contact with someone who has,” The Canadian Press trumpeted across the country on June 30.

In a public health emergency, Alberta’s Public Health Act (PHA) makes the CMOH the most powerful person in the province, with virtually no checks and balances to keep her in line with reason and common sense. The cabinet can’t even make her into the “fall gal”— even though her role is described as “public health protector.” 

Even though Dr. Hinshaw has said she “deeply regrets how comments she made in July led some Albertans to believe COVID-19 was over,” this was hardly an apology in the face of international evidence that the delta variant – which she alluded to in her news conference in July, so she cannot plead ignorance – was already wreaking havoc over half of the globe.

Public Health Act protects Dr. Deena Hinshaw

Section 66.1 of the PHA protects medical officers of health, including the CMOH, from liability. She cannot be sued for wrongful death, or negligence, or for errors of omission. She cannot be sued by long-haulers or persons who have lost loved ones to the worsening pandemic.

That is because she can always fall back on the excuse that she was “acting in good faith” when she recommended to the Minister of Health that current “science and data” supported her recommendation to cabinet to lift restrictions, thereby giving free rein to the infected to socially mingle at rodeos, folk music festivals and other super-spreader events.

It was the will of the premier and his cabinet that restrictions imposed by order in council in 2020 be lifted in time for the Calgary Stampede and other rodeos. There, the brave fans showed brave cowboys from across the continent how to really live dangerously, flaunting the fact that in Alberta, ya don’t have to wear a mask.

Albertans are dying unnecessarily

Kenney may have put his political life on the line, but that is nothing compared to the actual lives that have been lost or imperilled by the ill-advised counsel of his CMOH.  Dr. Hinshaw, as well as Jason Kenney, must be held accountable for their incompetence and negligence, which has led to dangerously overcrowded ICUs.

It will take more than the resignation of the premier and CMOH to bring peace to this circle. Of the 284,000 Albertans diagnosed with COVID-19, a staggering 2,574 have died – most of them unnecessarily. ICUs are full, health professionals are stretched to beyond the limits of human tolerance. That in itself is a national emergency.

These tragic statistics call for nothing less than a commission of inquiry to determine where the system failed. That may ensure that in future pandemics, nothing remotely similar happens again.

  • Gary Botting is the author of some 40 books, including, The Orwellian World of Jehovah’s Witnesses (University of Toronto Press), Fundamental Freedoms and Jehovah’s Witnesses (University of Calgary Press),  Leadership: An Anthology (Royal Roads University), and the upcoming Dangerous Offender Law (LexisNexis).