BC healthcare workers prevented from returning to work despite understaffing

VANCOUVER, BC: The Justice Centre announces that a 10-day hearing for the constitutional challenge to British Columbia’s Covid vaccination mandates begins today at the Supreme Court of British Columbia. This challenge draws attention to Public Health Orders that continue to violate the freedom of conscience and religion, right to security, and right to equality of thousands of British Columbian healthcare workers.

On March 16, 2022, the Justice Centre supported a legal challenge to Government of British Columbia Public Health Orders, issued in November 2021, requiring specified groups of healthcare workers to get injected with the Covid vaccine. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of 11 healthcare workers, including front-line staff as well as administrative and management personnel. This court action includes applicants who worked remotely and had no direct contact with patients. These workers refused the Covid vaccine, for which no long-term safety data was available, for reasons of conscience or religion, for medical reasons, or all three. Like thousands of other healthcare workers, they were terminated from their positions and continue to be barred from returning to their work more than two years later.

Over the next two years, the November 2021 Orders were expanded and modified by the BC government, capturing more and more healthcare workers.

  • A June 2022 Order required registrants of various medical colleges to disclose their Covid vaccination status to their respective medical colleges, who would report that information to Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.
  • September 2022 Orders expanded the scope of previous Orders, requiring students applying to post-secondary medical programs, post-secondary staff working in care locations, and post-secondary administrative and managerial staff working in health services facilities to disclose their Covid vaccination status to their institutions, who would report that information to Dr. Henry.
  • April 2023 Orders expanded the scope of previous Orders by requiring staff member construction workers to get injected to work at hospitals and other medical facilities. Previously, constructions workers, whether staff members or working under contract, as well as other outside service providers working on projects within the BC healthcare system, did not need to show proof of vaccination if they followed protocols set out in the Orders. The April 2023 Orders were silent regarding outside service providers, and specifically exempted construction services working under contract, meaning these groups of workers no longer needed to follow personal protective equipment protocols.
  • A June 2023 Order cancelled the June 2022 Order. Registrants of medical colleges would no longer be required to report their vaccination statuses to their colleges, and colleges would no longer be required to report that data to Dr. Henry. However, healthcare workers of any Provincial Health Authority in British Columbia, including workers who did not have in-person contact with patients, were still required to show proof of vaccination before being allowed to work.
  • An October 5, 2023 Order requires any unvaccinated new hires to receive the requisite number of doses of the new XBB.1.5-containing formulation of the Covid vaccine to be allowed to work, making it impossible for many doctors, nurses, administrators, other healthcare workers, and non-healthcare workers to work in BC’s healthcare system.
No provisions for alternative employment or accommodation were made for healthcare workers who chose not to get injected for reasons of conscience or religion, for medical reasons, or for those with natural immunity to Covid.Thousands of healthcare workers and patients lost their jobs as a result of these Orders. According to a March 2022 report, 2,496 British Columbia healthcare workers were terminated for not being vaccinated. Nearly four percent of healthcare workers in Interior Health were terminated; nearly three percent in Northern Health were terminated.

Meanwhile, British Columbia continues to experience a healthcare crisis, according to reports. Emergency rooms in rural communities are closing; wait times are climbing; birthing units in Surrey are suffering from acute shortages – sometimes with fatal consequences. British Columbians are turning to private and even cross-border healthcare options to get treatment.

In addition to pointing out that vaccines have proven ineffective and have caused adverse reactions, lawyers for the Petitioners argue that ordering vaccination as a condition of employment interferes with the right to medical self-determination – protected by Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Further, lawyers point out that the mandates failed to provide opportunities for religious and conscientious objections – protected by Section 2 of the Charter. Further, while healthcare workers were terminated for being unvaccinated, the government was hiring remote-working contractors with no requirement that they be vaccinated, generating a concern about equality – protected by Section 15 of the Charter.

Lawyer Charlene LeBeau stated, “The rights of healthcare workers must not be disregarded, even when the goal is to protect public health. This is especially true in relation to mandating a new medical treatment that has a terrible track record for adverse reactions and, in any event, has proven to be ineffective in stopping infection or transmission.”

Justice Centre President John Carpay remarked, “Understaffing in British Columbia’s healthcare system is literally killing people, based on an ideological decision to punish doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers more than two years after they legitimately exercised their Charter right to bodily autonomy. Science and medicine ought to prevail over ideology.”

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