Manitoba

Health-care workers sue province, top doctor over mandatory COVID-19 vaccination, testing

Sixteen unvaccinated health-care workers who were placed on unpaid leave last fall are suing the Manitoba government and multiple health authorities over the province's mandatory COVID-19 vaccination and testing policies. 

Policy violated their charter rights, caused loss of livelihood: claim

The Manitoba government, chief public health officer and regional health authorities are being sued by a group of health-care workers who were placed on unpaid leave after refusing to comply with the province's COVID-19 vaccination and testing policy. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Sixteen unvaccinated health-care workers who were placed on unpaid leave last fall are suing the Manitoba government and multiple health authorities over the province's mandatory COVID-19 vaccination and testing policies. 

In a statement of claim filed June 23, the group claims the policy violated their charter rights because it forced them to disclose private health information about their COVID-19 vaccination status under the threat of disciplinary measures or losing their livelihood. 

The lawsuit names the attorneys general of Manitoba and Canada, Dr. Brent Roussin, the chief provincial public health officer, and the regional health authorities as defendants. 

The claim says the policy violates several charter rights, including the workers' right to liberty as it interferes with their personal autonomy by limiting their ability to control their own physical and psychological health. 

The group also argues that the policy amounts to criminal assault because it forces a medical intervention on employees under threat of loss of livelihood. 

Almost all of the 16 plaintiffs were placed on unpaid leave after refusing to comply with the policy, which required health- care workers to either get vaccinated against COVID-19 or agree to regular testing. 

Significant mental anguish: claim

The workers say they lost their primary source of income as a result, and were also ineligible for unemployment benefits, causing significant mental anguish. 

"They are left to contemplate whether or not they will have the funds available to meet their basic needs, including the purchase of food, clothing and shelter for themselves and their families," the statement of claim says. 

The group is asking for up to $1.5 million each in damages. They are being represented by Alberta-based lawyer Leighton Grey.

The policy was announced in August 2021 in response to the threat of the more contagious delta variant and took effect on Oct. 18, 2021. Paramedics, home-care workers and people working with child and family services were covered by the policy. 

Data provided by Shared Health showed that 176 unvaccinated health-care workers were placed on unpaid leave as of Oct. 21, 2021, four days after the policy came into effect. 

The policy was lifted on March 1 of this year after the province ended its vaccine mandates. 

A spokesperson for the province said their position will be laid out in court.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sarah Petz

Reporter

Sarah Petz is a reporter with CBC Manitoba. She was previously based at CBC New Brunswick. Her career has taken her across three provinces and includes a stint in East Africa. In 2017, she was part of a team of reporters and editors nominated for a National Newspaper Award for a feature on the Port of Saint John in New Brunswick. She can be reached at Sarah.Petz@cbc.ca.

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