Proposal for mandatory vaccine policy troubling for civil liberties group

A civil liberties groups is expressing constitutional concerns about proposals for mandatory COVID-19 vaccines for all eligible Canadians.

It comes days after the federal health minister suggested provinces start looking at mandating the shot for everyone who is able to receive it.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association says a widespread mandatory vaccine policy from any province would likely conflict with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The association’s director of the Fundamental Freedoms Program, Cara Zwibel, says Canadians have a right to security of the person.

“We have autonomy over our own bodies and we get to make decisions about medical care and treatment, and that would extend to vaccination,” she told CityNews.

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She adds such a policy likely wouldn’t stand up in a legal challenge, noting Section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“It probably runs afoul of the constitution and is a concerning thing to throw out in such a casual way,” she said of the idea put forward by Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos.

“Even things like this that would normally be considered extraordinary are sort of thrown out without much thought.”

Duclos has stressed any final call would be made by the provinces.

Speaking in French, Duclos said Friday, according to a translator, “I will give you a personal point of view — it’s personal and not necessarily relevant because this is a decision that will be made by the provinces. I personally think we will get there at some point — mandatory vaccination.”

Alberta and Saskatchewan have already made it clear they will not make vaccines mandatory.

There is no doubt pressure is mounting to get the vaccinated to relent.

“If you are an unvaccinated adult, you are going to become part of Omicron wave that is threatening our hospitals. So I urge you to please stay home, limit your contact in the community to the most essential reasons, and please get your first two doses without delay to get protected,” said Dr. Lawrence Loh, the medical officer of health in the Peel region of Ontario.

Watch: Canada’s health minister believes mandatory vaccines are coming

But urging the unvaccinated is very different than making it mandatory for them.

One expert says there’s no question there’s an ethical obligation for every one of this to be vaccinated. However, it should not affect a person’s ability to get care.

“If mandatory vaccines include limiting or even halting health care for unvaccinated people, I as a bioethicist would be, with a lot of experience working within Canadian health care, would be 100 per cent opposed to that,” explained Kerry Bowman, a bioethicist out of the University of Toronto.

“I think it really tears at the very roots of who we are as a country, and it really rips apart our health-care system in terms of making judgements about our patients. There is so much anger right now towards unvaccinated people, and I get it, to a point. But what I struggle with is, what does mandatory mean? … The question is not just do we do this, but what does it say about us as a society, and how far do we go?”

Meanwhile, the head of the Canadian Medical Association has said it’s time our country have a direct and honest conversation about how we treat unvaccinated COVID-19 patients.

“As a society, we have made a decision to allocate resources disproportionately to this group of Canadians at the expense of other Canadians, including children who are now not able to attend school. And I think we’re sort of acting like it’s not a choice, but it is a choice,” CMA President Dr. Katherine Smart told the Big Story Podcast.

The prime minister is speaking with premiers on Monday. Though CityNews has been told the matter is not on the agenda, it is possible it could come up.

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