NB Government and farmers market back down on mandating vaccines for grocery shopping

On December 4, 2021, the Minister of Justice of New Brunswick issued a Public Health Order that allowed private businesses to deny service to those who had not been vaccinated for Covid-19. A few days later, the Fredericton Boyce Farmers Market, owned by the New Brunswick Government, and leased to the City of Fredericton at a nominal rate, announced a mandatory vaccination policy on December 11, 2021, stating, “[P]roof of double vaccination (or medical exemption) will be required to shop indoors, for all visitors 12 and over.” No offer for delivery or curbside pickup was offered when this policy was announced.

On December 7, 2021 the Justice Centre sent a demand letter to the Minister of Justice of New Brunswick warning that this Public Health Order was unconstitutional. The Justice Centre warning letter also noted that the right to food is a fundamental human right enshrined in various international instruments including Article 25 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights, amongst other human rights instruments.

On December 14, 2021, three Members of Parliament representing New Brunswick constituencies, John Williamson, Rob Moore, and Richard Bragdon, released statements condemning the New Brunswick Government’s Winter Action Plan, which gave retailers and grocery stores permission to refuse services to those who had not received a Covid-19 vaccination.

On December 15, the Justice Centre sent the City of Fredericton a demand letter in relation to its vaccinated-only policy at the Fredericton Boyce Farmers Market demanding it be immediately reversed for its unprecedented unconstitutional and human rights violations.

On December 17, 2021, the Government of New Brunswick revised its Public Health Order to accommodate those who had not received a Covid-19 vaccination. The government news release stated, “An option allowing stores that sell groceries to ask patrons 12 and over for proof of vaccination, instead of implementing distancing requirements, is being removed from the province’s mandatory order.” In the news release, Health Minister Dorothy Shephard now states that “the original intention was to give stores a choice, and that those choosing the proof-of-vaccination option would offer delivery or curbside pickup; it was never the intention for anyone to believe they could not access groceries.”

The Fredericton Boyce Farmer’s Market immediately began following the province’s reversal in Order and made their own announcement on Twitter, rescinding its mandatory vaccination policy.

Andre Memauri of the Justice Centre remarked, “This Order, which served to segregate citizens, was a very concerning development in Canada. It would have been the first attempt by a government to deny essential services and food to Canadians who decide against receiving a Covid vaccine, as is their constitutional right.”

Memauri continued, “Today the Government of New Brunswick and the City of Fredericton have corrected their vaccination policies in relation to grocery sales to accord with the Charter and Human Rights legislation and this is a positive step. However, there is work to be done as the revised New Brunswick Order still infringes the Charter as it relates to faith-based venues, by requiring anyone that attends religious services to be fully vaccinated with the new Covid shots for certain events. We will continue our legal work in this regard. The Government has no legal or scientific justification to tell churches and faith-based groups who can be allowed to attend services and on what grounds. The Justice Centre will continue to ensure that vaccine-free citizens are not discriminated against by being denied essential services, such as purchasing food at markets and grocery stores. Denying a minority population in this manner is a reprehensible and unlawful act of cruelty and discrimination.”