Tracy McPhee, the Yukon’s justice minister, speaks at a press conference at the Yukon Legislative Assembly in Whitehorse on March 6. McPhee has responded to a letter from a civil liberties group questioning the constitutionality of the territory’s COVID-19 border control measures, saying the government is “acutely aware” of the issues. (Jackie Hong/Yukon News file)

Yukon border control measures constitutional, YG says in reply to CCLA letter

“As Canadians, we also acknowledge that our rights must have ‘reasonable limits’”

The Yukon’s minister of justice has responded to a letter from a civil liberties group questioning the constitutionality of the territory’s COVID-19 border control measures, saying the government is “acutely aware” of the issues.

“In these trying times, it falls on our government to make decisions that strike a balance between individual rights and public safety with the goal of protecting the health and safety of Yukoners,” Tracy McPhee wrote in a letter to the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) on June 3.

“… In charting the course of our response, the Government of Yukon has and will continue to do its very best to find the right balance between collective health and individual liberties.”

The CCLA had penned a letter to McPhee on May 27 expressing concerns that the travel and entry restrictions the Yukon has put in place in response to the COVID-19 pandemic violates section six of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees Canadians’ mobility rights within the country. It also questioned whether the Yukon had the authority to make orders that impacted the movement of Canadians who reside outside the territory.

The Yukon, using an order under the Civil Emergency Measures Act (CEMA), began barring entry into the territory on April 17 with exceptions for residents, family members of residents, critical or essential service workers, people travelling to Alaska or the Northwest Territories via the Yukon, or people exercising an Aboriginal or treaty right.

“Canadians enjoy a core of basic rights and freedoms not just under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but also as inheritors of many rich legal traditions — English, French, First Nations and others — that value and respect individual autonomy,” McPhee’s reply reads.

“As Canadians, we also acknowledge that our rights must have ‘reasonable limits.’”

McPhee did not explicitly mention section six of the Charter in her letter.

However, in an email June 4, Yukon government spokesperson Matthew Cameron wrote that the government’s “position is that the border control measures that were introduced on April 16 … place reasonable limits on the section 6 rights of Canadians.”

“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,” he wrote.

Cameron also said the Yukon had the jurisdiction to make the order about border control measures under CEMA.

Cara Zwibel, the director of the CCLA’s fundamental freedoms program, confirmed in an email June 4 that the association had received McPhee’s reply, and that while it appreciates that the government has “acknowledged our concerns and articulated its goal of balancing individual rights and public safety, the letter does not address how the government has gone about approaching these decisions or set out the evidence that underlies them.”

“For example, it doesn’t explain why a self-isolation requirement for visitors is insufficient to address public health and safety concerns,” Zwibel wrote. “This kind of information is important not just for organizations like ours, that seek to ensure governments are held accountable, but for the people who are directly affected by the policy decisions that the government makes.”

Contact Jackie Hong at jackie.hong@yukon-news.com

CoronavirusYukon justice department

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