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‘Covid case delays costing us dear’

Waiting on judgment: Sophia Cannonier and her husband, Michael Watson, outside Magistrates’ Court (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

A couple accused of breaking the island’s Covid-19 emergency laws more than two years ago said court delays were taking an emotional toll on their family after having a judgment on their case adjourned for a second time.

Sophia Cannonier and her husband, Michael Watson, have vowed to “stay the course“ after the judgment expected in Magistrates’ Court yesterday was put off until a date to be determined.

Ms Cannonier said: “We are in it and we have to stay the course. This is about truth.

“But it has brought us emotional stress and anxiety, not just on us but the whole family.”

Mr Watson said the trial, initially held up because of scheduling conflicts, was also coming at a financial cost.

“Every time means another day of lost work,” he said.

The couple were charged with breaching public safety regulations after returning from a trip to Britain on July 11, 2021 during the pandemic.

Under the Government’s emergency powers, unvaccinated travellers were required to spend 14 days in quarantine at one of six government-approved hotels at their own expense.

The two were accused of failure to complete a travel authorisation form, and leaving their home on July 20, before the end of their quarantine period.

The couple, who have denied all charges, argued that their natural immunity after prior exposure to the virus rendered the restrictions unnecessary.

However, health officials maintained that immunity gained from being infected with Covid-19 could not be accepted as a replacement for immunisation from vaccinations.

Marc Daniels, the lawyer for the Devonshire couple, said counsel had been asked by Khamisi Tokunbo, the magistrate, to provide final submissions by August 14.

The defence met the deadline, but Mr Daniels said the Crown did not get its submissions in until August 29 and as a result a judgment due to be delivered on August 31 was adjourned until yesterday, when it was again adjourned.

“There has not been enough time for the submissions to be properly digested,” he said. “The magistrate has a significant amount of cases.”

Mr Tokunbo apologised for the delay.

The case became a flashpoint for opponents to the pandemic restriction, with supporters holding vigils for the Cannoniers outside their home.

Police officers were also posted to the residence to ensure they complied with quarantine.

The couple, who have two children, were tested after contracting Covid-19, and presented documents upon arrival at LF Wade International Airport attesting to possessing antibodies against the virus.

However, this was not recognised by Bermuda authorities.

The trial heard from family doctor Henry Dowling that antibodies gained from exposure to the virus could be equivalent to the immunity conferred by vaccination.

Christina Parks, a scientist who appeared in overseas courts on the same issue, also testified this June that there was “no scientific basis” for quarantining people with natural immunity.

Mr Daniels argued at a hearing in May that the case hinged on “a reasonable excuse, for example whether someone has the financial mechanism and means to go into a quarantine facility”.

Legal challenges to Covid-19 mandates have faced an uphill battle in Bermuda’s courts.

A lawsuit against the Ministry of Education on requiring a child to get tested for the virus in order to attend school went to the Court of Appeal in March without success.

A man who ignored Covid rules after arriving at the airport got four months’ imprisonment in Magistrates’ Court last January.

The defendant argued that the island’s restrictions constituted mandates from the health ministry rather than laws.

A man was fined $500 in May for being out on the roads after curfew, although he said he was picking up his girlfriend after her vehicle broke down.

A chef who fell afoul of the curfew told Magistrates’ Court in April 2021 that he had no choice because he had to deal with a flood in his restaurant’s kitchen and secure the premises — but was fined $1,500.

In July 2021, a legal team argued before Narinder Hargun, the Chief Justice, that the Government had failed to prove that mandatory hotel quarantining for unvaccinated residents returning from overseas was “a reasonable requirement” to protect public safety.

Mr Justice Hargun rejected the case, saying the Government had acted reasonably in the face of a public health crisis.

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