An Ontario lawyer who has been working closely with Rebel News Media in Covid-19 related cases across the country will be representing the Monkey Tree Pub at its court hearing Tuesday morning, NNSL Media has learned.

Joshua Halpern, a Toronto-based lawyer who has appeared in court to represent businesses fined in similar ways across the country in hundreds of cases, will do likewise tomorrow for Monkey Tree Pub owners Jennifer Vornbrock and Steve Dinham. NNSL file photo

Joshua Halpern, a Toronto-based lawyer who has appeared in court to represent businesses fined in similar ways across the country in hundreds of cases, will do likewise tomorrow for Monkey Tree Pub owners Jennifer Vornbrock and Steve Dinham.

The hearing was scheduled for March 2 but was adjourned to March 30 at 9:30 a.m.

Halpern said Monday he planned to request another adjournment.

The pub was given a ticket for $5,175 for non-compliance of public health orders by a Covid enforcement officer in December. The Range Lake Road eatery is the only such Northwest Territories business to be ticketed.

In February, the NWT Chamber of Commerce told the premier the ticket was unfair.

Halpern said his “primary strategy” will be to challenge the Constitutionality of the ticket.

“After (Tuesday’s hearing), I plan to speak to the investigator and go over the case, but we want this thing completely tossed.

“While we don’t want this to go to trial, if need be, we are ready to fight.”

Halpern said he has been working closely with Rebel News Media, which according to its own website is a “generally conservative.” It was founded by right wing pundit Ezra Levant and revels in challenging “mainstream media” coverage of news and politics.

Rebel News launched the FighttheFines.com campaign website as companies like the popular Yellowknife nightspot started getting fines during pandemic lockdowns in 2020. It crowd-funds donations from ordinary Canadians to pay for civil law challenges against Covid-related charges.

The site features videos of individuals ticketed for violating mask bylaws and other public health orders.

Halpern said after reviewing the Monkey Tree Pub case, he isn’t seeing much different from what he has experienced since the pandemic in that there appears to be government overreach and constitutional rights being infringed.

The Monkey Tree and a ‘scary time’ for Charter rights

“Right now we are living in a scary time when it comes to the constitution and Charter rights being in jeopardy,” he said.

“When I found out about this case, I remember reviewing some of the disclosure and it is my understanding that it was the manager of liquor enforcement who reported my client to the police and stated that ‘it was very concerning seeing the amount of people standing shoulder to shoulder without worry of the current pandemic.'”

The Northwest Territories has had 75 confirmed cases of Covid-19, including one active case announce Monday. No one has died as a result of infection. Halpern said that paints the Monkey Tree’s ticket as an overreaction.

“You’d think that government officials were describing a gruesome crime scene, but it’s the Monkey Tree,” he said. “Yes, people are going to be swaying left to right and and there are going to be empty glasses on tables. It is a bar and a neighbourhood small business trying to survive. It’s hard to operate in normal times and people are inside trying to escape the hardship of their lives for a few hours.”

He argues that part of the problem is that when smaller businesses or “ordinary people” try to speak out against stringent public health policies they can become “stigmatized and labelled” as if they don’t care about public health.

Halpern is listed with the Law Society of the Northwest Territories with the North York law firm Shapiro Halpern Law.

Rebel News did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Vornbrock declined to comment.

Simon Whitehouse

Simon Whitehouse came to Yellowknife to work with Northern News Services in 2011. Simon obtained his journalism education at Algonquin College and the University of Ottawa. Simon can be reached at...

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