Brad Cathers, the MLA for Lake Laberge, in Whitehorse on March 5. The Yukon Party is demanding that the Yukon government release its legal advice regarding the legality of the territory’s border restrictions. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

Opposition asks Yukon government to release legal advice on border restrictions

Yukon Party says Yukoners should know how YG made decision to restrict travel into the territory

The Yukon Party is demanding that the Yukon government release its legal advice regarding the legality of the territory’s border restrictions.

Brad Cathers, the MLA for Lake Laberge, spoke with the News on June 15 to outline why the party wants the legal advice released.

Cathers said he recognizes that there are health merits to the border closure but pointed out other jurisdictions have walked back similar restrictions, specifically noting the Northwest Territories has changed its border restrictions.

The Northwest Territories recently announced that a two-territory travel bubble with Nunavut will come into effect on June 19, allowing people from Nunavut to travel without self-isolating. The government also announced that non-resident family members of residents will be eligible for passes to visit the territory for things like family reunification, funerals and other similar reasons.

Cathers feels the Yukon not following suit is a problem considering the Canadian Civil Liberties Association has called the territory’s border restrictions unconstitutional. The association sent a letter regarding the border on May 27.

“Our belief in this case is that with these unprecedented restrictions, a responsible government should make sure that the actions taken are not illegal and, in this case, provide Yukoners with information on how they arrived at the decision and their legal advice that they received saying that those restrictions are not unconstitutional,” Cathers said.

He emphasized this is about public transparency while recognizing the reasonable public health argument for the action.

“They (government) should be increasing their disclosure to the public about why those restrictions are necessary and why those restrictions are legal,” Cathers said.

Cathers said a Yukon Party government would have proposed an all-party committee to provide some oversight during the pandemic.

“If we were in power, the legislative assembly sitting would have been temporarily suspended to allow some steps to be taken around proper physical distancing… we would be wanting to involve other parties as we have in the past in all-party committees to ensure that on an issue of this importance that there is an effort to involve all three parties and not the government going at it alone,” Cathers said.

When asked if the legislature would have been reconvened by now, Cathers said it would have but said he did not want to “get too far into the weeds” on predicting specific policies and programs the party would have rolled out, including whether the Yukon Party would have closed the border.

Justice Minister Tracy McPhee issued a statement to the News on June 16, regarding this matter.

“In every decision the Government of Yukon takes, my colleagues and I are acutely aware of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” McPhee said in the statement. “Lawyers in the Department of Justice review and provide advice about a variety of government actions, including those that have been taken to manage the COVID-19 pandemic.”

She said the government’s position is that the border restriction sdoes not place an unreasonable limit of section six of the Charter and that the border restrictions are a temporary measure.

“These are temporary measures that place reasonable restrictions on the entry of people into Yukon from areas where the COVID-19 virus is known to be present, and place reasonable restrictions on the movement and activities of those people while they are in Yukon for the purposes of containing the spread of COVID-19 in Yukon,” McPhee said in the statement.

Premier Sandy Silver also spoke on the issue in a phone interview on June 16. He too called the border restrictions a temporary measure.

He said if the Yukon Party is arguing that the border should have remained open despite the pandemic that would be the wrong thing to do.

He points to the modeling that showed there could have been 1,946 cases in the territory if no action was taken.

“I am confident that the measures we put in place are consistent within the Charter and they are put in place to keep Yukoners safe and fulfilled those goals so far,” Silver said.

When asked if the government would be releasing the legal advice, Silver said, “We are confident our control measures are within the reasonable limits … (of) the Charter.”

Contact Gord Fortin at gord.fortin@yukon-news.com

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