Nova Scotia judge sues chief judge, provincial court over Covid vaccine status and judicial independence

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Photo: Courtesy of Rickcola Brinton

Nova Scotia judge sues chief judge, provincial court over Covid vaccine status and judicial independence

Photo: Courtesy of Rickcola Brinton

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HALIFAX, NS: The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms is providing for the legal representation of Judge Rickcola Brinton of the Provincial Court of Nova Scotia in a lawsuit against The Honorable Pamela S. Williams, former Chief Judge of the Provincial Court of Nova Scotia, among others. Brinton was threatened by Williams with suspension and referral to the provincial Judicial Council after she chose not to disclose her Covid vaccination status in late 2021. She filed her claim in the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia on September 29, 2023, seeking damages for the intentional violation of her judicial independence and medical privacy.

On September 29, 2021, Brinton received an email (sent to all judges of the Nova Scotia Provincial Court) from Judge Williams, then Chief Judge, asking if they would agree to share their vaccination status with each other. Chief Judge Williams also asked whether the Court should share that information with the Nova Scotia Bar.

On October 1, 2021, Brinton replied, “I realize I may be in the minority…as I have concerns with medical privacy,” she wrote. “I also know that the vaccination mandates and passports may be disproportionately impacting racialized communities. And as an essential service, will we be creating a two-tiered society for those who already feel as though we are not all free to serve them?” She thus declined to disclose her vaccination status.

In an effort to persuade her, Chief Judge Williams met with Brinton on October 7, 2021. Brinton explained that her decision not to disclose her vaccination status was a matter of conscience and the result of prayerful contemplation. She offered to get tested for Covid as often as needed, but Chief Judge Williams rejected Brinton’s proposal.

At the end of October, Brinton went on short-term disability leave. She submitted the required Proof of Illness form completed by her doctor.

On November 1, 2021, Chief Judge Williams sent out an email to all judges stating that “only fully vaccinated judges will be assigned to sit in our courtrooms.” Four days later, on November 25, 2021, she issued a public statement announcing that “[a]ll Provincial Court judges presiding in courtrooms, both now and in the future, are fully vaccinated.”

A few months later, on February 22, 2022, Chief Judge Williams wrote to Brinton stating that she would not approve the continuation of the short-term leave unless Brinton provided evidence of her disability. She also wrote that if Brinton continued to refuse to disclose her vaccination status, she would be “considered non-vaccinated and unable to preside over in-person trial and sentencings in the Court Room,” and that she would have “no recourse other than to suspend [Brinton] and refer the matter to the Judicial Council.”

Then, on March 27, 2022, without warning or Brinton’s consent, Chief Judge Williams wrote to Brinton’s doctor requesting that he supply her with details of Brinton’s medical issues. The doctor called Brinton to ask if she consented to this disclosure of medical information. She did not consent. The Chief Judge’s office followed up by calling the doctor’s office to once again ask for disclosure consent. Again, Brinton declined. Meanwhile, Brinton had provided necessary information to her disability benefits provider and had been approved for long-term disability.

Brinton has not received any communication from Chief Judge Williams since April 2022. Williams’ term as Chief Judge ended in August 2023. She continues to sit on the bench.

Judicial independence is a crucial and ancient constitutional principle, predating the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Brinton raised concerns about interference with medical privacy and the impact of disclosing her Covid vaccination status on the independence and impartiality of both herself and the Court, particularly with respect to cases where courts have been asked to rule on issues regarding Covid vaccines; for example, whether an employee who is terminated for not taking the Covid vaccine is eligible for EI benefits, or whether it was legal for post-secondary institutions to force students out of their programof study for not taking the vaccine. As a result of raising such concerns, Brinton was threatened with suspension and disciplinary action.

Brinton’s lawsuit names the Honourable Pamela S. Williams, the Office of the Chief Judge of the Provincial Court of Nova Scotia, the Provincial Court of Nova Scotia, and the Attorney General of Nova Scotia representing His Majesty the King in Right of the Province of Nova Scotia, as defendants.

For media inquiries, please contact media@jccf.ca.

Photo: Courtesy of Rickcola Brinton

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