CALGARY – It’s a debate that has run through the legal community for 16 months: Can you be criminally charged if you know you have COVID-19, skip quarantine, and fatally infect someone else?
The question has come up again as Alberta plans to remove mandatory isolations for people who test positive for the virus.
The opinion among experts is split.
“You could be charged with criminal negligence causing death,” said Kyla Lee, a lawyer with Acumen.
“It’s an interesting question,” said criminologist Doug King, who ultimately disagrees with Lee.
“You would be hard-pressed to go criminally after those kinds of people.”
The Canadian government had warned citizens they could face criminal charges in these cases.
Now the rules are changing and that means, according to Lee, it would be harder to find someone criminally responsible. But civil law still comes into play.
“With the isolation order being rescinded, you’re most likely to be found liable in a civil case because what has to be proven is much lower and your obligations to other people are, in some respects, higher,” explained Lee.
King says Alberta’s new protocols would make it harder to argue in civil court too.
“I don’t know how you would then apply a civil standard of gross negligence when there are no rules out there, no laws out there, and I’m just doing what I think is right,” he said.
But Lee says the province’s new rules do not open the door to people deciding not to get tested and pleading ignorance.
“The failure to get tested when they were symptomatic or the failure to get tested even having a close contact with someone who was positive for COVID-19 could amount to essentially a form of negligence in and of itself,” offered Lee.
King, on the other hand, says the law shouldn’t be at the centre of public health discussions.
“Bottom line is we shouldn’t be rushing to use laws, criminal law in particular, to try and get people to follow the COVID-19 protocols,” he said.
Lee says even if you aren’t required to get a test or isolate, it’s important to protect yourself and others, “not just from the spread of COVID but also from legal liability and possible criminal charges.”
“Stay at home, get tested, and follow common sense.”