Ontario court says ‘wisdom and efficacy’ of lockdown rules ‘open to question’

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TORONTO — An Ontario court says the “wisdom and efficacy” of the province’s lockdown measures allowing big box stores that happen to sell groceries to remain fully open — potentially generating more customer traffic — is “open to question.”

In a decision that ultimately dismisses Hudson’s Bay Co.’s bid to amend Ontario’s retail lockdown rules, a panel of Ontario Superior Court judges suggests the policy could be at odds with the broader goal of limiting COVID-19 while allowing the sale of essential items in stores.

The decision says the logic of reducing community transmission suggests that only goods deemed essential should be offered for sale in stores, and that the public should only be permitted into areas of a retail store where essential items are sold — as is the case currently in Quebec.

In fact, the judges say they “agree with HBC” that some of the lockdown measures seem to permit behaviour that is “inconsistent with the broader policy goal of reducing community transmission.”

Still, the decision says the court’s role is limited to determining whether this provision is authorized by the Reopening Ontario Act, which the judges say it “clearly is.”

HBC filed an application for judicial review of the province’s lockdown rules on Dec. 10  after the Toronto and Peel regions went into lockdown in late November, shutting down 12 of the retailer’s department stores.

Another four Hudson’s Bay stores were closed after the York and Windsor-Essex regions went into lockdown on Dec. 14.

Ontario entered a provincewide lockdown on Boxing Day.