A group of former B.C. health care workers are taking the province to court after they were fired for refusing to take a COVID-19 vaccine.
In fall 2021, health-care workers who work for health authorities, agencies funded by health authorities, as well as long-term care and seniors’ assisted-living workers were required to get the jab or lose their jobs.
More recently, public health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry walked back a proposed order that would have required all heath-care practitioners in B.C. to be vaccinated. However, an order was issued requiring all professional colleges to collect information on vaccine status by March 31.
The order did not outline any specific consequences or vaccination mandates. At a news conference on March 10, Henry said the province would be taking a ‘measured approach’ and that vaccines may be required for some professions but not others.
This new lawsuit, brought by the Alberta-based Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, argues that the original vaccine mandate for health-care workers is unfair and violates their Charter rights, including the right to life, liberty and security of the person, freedom of religion and conscience and equality rights..
Karen Bastow, a lawyer with the Justice Centre and lead counsel in the suit, said that the centre “understands and supports the protection of vulnerable persons in the healthcare and long-term care context,” but argues that vaccine mandates “go further than needed”.
Some of the health-care workers represented by the Justice Centre worked remotely and others worked in an administrative capacity, while some do not work in health-care settings or front-line care roles at all.
The centre argues that accommodations like rapid testing and alternative employment should have been offered as accommodations for health-care workers who refused to be vaccinated. They also call for exemptions for religious and conscience reasons.
“We depended on these hard-working health care workers throughout the first year of Covid and there were no vaccines available,” said Justice Centre lawyer Charlene Le Beau. “To fire them from their jobs now because they exercise bodily autonomy or have objections to the vaccines based on their beliefs is an act of two-faced hypocrisy and a betrayal of those workers who have sacrificed so much for Canadians.”
The Ministry of Health said approximately 2,452 employees had been terminated for failing to get a vaccine. Prior to the pandemic, some 312,600 people were employed in B.C.’s health-care system.