4 Alberta doctors launch lawsuit over mandatory COVID-19 vaccine policy

Four Alberta doctors are suing the provincial health authority and its president over its mandatory workplace COVID-19 vaccination policy.

Plaintiffs allege vaccination policy 'amounts to assault'

A nurse prepares to give a COVID-19 vaccine in Edmonton on Dec. 15, 2020. Four Alberta doctors are challenging the provincial health authority's vaccine mandate in court. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

Four Alberta doctors are suing the provincial health authority and its president over its mandatory workplace COVID-19 vaccination policy.

The physicians filed a statement of claim last Friday in the Calgary Courts Centre.

The plaintiffs — Calgary pediatric neurologist Dr. Eric T. Payne, Calgary anesthesiologist Dr. Joanna J. Moser, Ponoka family physician Dr. Gregory Keen-Wai Chan and Sexsmith family physician Dr. David Loewen — allege that, by requiring them to get vaccinated against COVID-19, Alberta Health Services (AHS) is engaging in a conspiracy to commit assault.

"Any medical procedure performed on a patient without their informed consent amounts to assault," the statement of claim says.

The vaccination requirement applies to all workers at AHS, Alberta Precision Labs, Carewest, CapitalCare and Covenant Health workers, and members of medical and midwifery staffs, among others. 

The lawsuit, filed on the doctors' behalf by Calgary lawyer Jeffery Rath, also alleges that the mandatory vaccination policy amounts to "constructive dismissal" because it alters the plaintiffs' contracts on threat of termination or unpaid suspension.

AHS 'confident' in policy

The statement of claim goes on to allege that the vaccine policy breaches confidentiality, since "the minute a physician is placed on unpaid leave, their status is immediately apparent."

The plaintiffs will argue that this inflicts damage to their professional reputations and causes psychological harm.

The suit also alleges the AHS policy violates right to security of the person guaranteed under Section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Rath said he will file an application for an injunction on Monday to force AHS to put the policy on hold until the lawsuit is heard in court.

A spokesperson for AHS, James Wood, told CBC News they have yet to receive any court documents related to the lawsuit.

He said 94 per cent of full-time and part-time AHS employees — and 94 per cent of AHS physicians — have already abided by the policy and submitted proof of having two doses of COVID-19 vaccine. 

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit account for less than 0.1 per cent of the 9,000 physicians working in Alberta's integrated health-care system, he said. 

"AHS is confident in the validity of the mandatory immunization policy, which is an important tool to ensure the safety of our staff, physicians and patients," Wood said. 

Last week, AHS extended its deadline for all workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by one month, to Nov. 30.

To date, 61 employees have resigned their positions specifically because of the vaccination policy. That includes 31 staffers in clinical roles, 11 of whom are registered nurses.

The lawsuit alleges that AHS president Dr. Verna Yiu, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and other government officials, have made "false statements" that the "unvaccinated are to blame for the pandemic and hospital overcrowding."

On Monday, there were 821 COVID patients in Alberta hospitals.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, tweeted last week that, from June 1 to Oct. 20, 87 per cent of ICU patients were unvaccinated.

With files from Colleen Underwood