British Columbia

'Notices of liability' used by anti-vaccine, anti-mandate groups are 'not a thing,' law professor says

The use of so-called notices of liability threatening consequences over COVID-19 measures has made the jump from fringe anti-vaccine groups to health professionals — but that doesn't mean they have any legal value, according to experts in the law.

Documents sent to some health professional colleges in B.C. have no legal effect, says UBC Prof. Debra Parkes

Anti-vaccine activists and people opposed to COVID-19 vaccine mandates have personally delivered 'notices of liability' to public officials, but legal experts say these documents have no legal effect. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

The use of so-called notices of liability threatening consequences over COVID-19 measures has made the jump from fringe anti-vaccine groups to health professionals — but that doesn't mean they have any legal value, according to experts in the law.

Debra Parkes, a law professor at the University of B.C., told CBC that "notice of liability" is not a valid legal term and these documents appear to be nothing more than assertions of what someone believes the law to be.

"It's not a thing in law and I'm not aware of any legal effect for a document like this," she said.

"Clearly, people who are opposed to vaccine policy and to various other government policies, particularly public health orders, are banding together, writing a letter and calling it a notice of liability."

Parkes said she can't be sure where exactly the concept of such notices came from, though it could be a mish-mash of real legal tools like a demand letter, often used in contract disputes, and libel notices that are used in places like Ontario, but not B.C.

"I assume it's just an attempt to use a legal term like 'liability' that implies that there's some responsibility under the law," she said.

The documents are popular with believers of certain pseudo-legal theories linked to groups like the Freemen-on-the-land, a Canadian anti-government movement with links to white nationalism.

Activists opposed to COVID-19 vaccines, masks and other public health measures have hand-delivered the notices to public officials, including mayors, city councillors and school principals, across B.C.

Ottawa human rights lawyer Richard Warman told CBC earlier this fall that the notices used by those groups have no more legal power than a grocery list.

At least 3 professional colleges have received notices

Yet, somehow, they're gaining traction among some regulated health professionals.

In recent weeks, the boards of the B.C. colleges for chiropractors, naturopaths and traditional Chinese medicine practitioners and acupuncturists have all received lengthy "notices of liability" signed by some members of those professions, who have organized through private chat groups on Telegram.

In copies reviewed by CBC, the notices allege that board members will be held "personally liable" if vaccination against COVID-19 becomes a requirement for licensing.

Vaccination is not currently mandated for health professionals working in private practice, but Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said an order to that effect was on its way.

B.C.'s provincial health officer has promised that COVID-19 vaccines will soon be a condition of licensing for all regulated health professionals. (Lars Hagberg/The Canadian Press)

The documents sent to the colleges range in length from 16 to 21 pages, and allege that vaccine mandates violate everything from the Criminal Code of Canada and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act. They contain much of the same language used by anti-vaccine activists in their notices.

Parkes briefly reviewed the notice presented to the chiropractors' college and said while she couldn't comment on the strength of any of the legal arguments, it's nothing more than a letter of opinion in the eyes of the law.

"It may be that there are issues with any number of government actions or policies, but what you do in that case is you bring a constitutional challenge or you bring some form of legal action," she said.

"There's no legal requirement or form of something called a notice of liability."

Jonathan Ho, registrar for the College of Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioners and Acupuncturists of B.C., confirmed that the board had received a copy of the document, and said it is under review.

The registrar of the College of Chiropractors of B.C. declined to comment, and the registrar for the College of Naturopathic Physicians of B.C. did not respond to requests for comment.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bethany Lindsay

Journalist

Bethany Lindsay is a B.C. journalist with a focus on the courts, health, science and social justice issues. Questions or news tips? Get in touch at bethany.lindsay@cbc.ca or on Twitter through @bethanylindsay.

With files from Chris Walker

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