Hundreds of Federal Employees Launch Legal Challenge Against Government’s COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate

by EditorT

Vials of COVID-19 vaccine are seen in this illustration picture taken May 2, 2021. (REUTERS/Dado Ruvic)

By Isaac Teo

A group consisting of hundreds of federal employees has launched a legal challenge of the Liberal government’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, with the trial set to begin on Nov. 28.

The Quebec-based group, known as Fonctionnaires unis or United Servants, consists of members working in various federal departments including the Canada Revenue Agency, Service Canada, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and Canada Border Services Agency.

United Servants was created last October in response to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate imposed by the government on Oct. 6, 2021, requiring all federal workers to either get two doses or be suspended without pay unless they obtained exemptions approved through the policy.

“Up to now, we did not want to make our struggle public because, as federal employees, we are not supposed to criticize the government. But I think the time has come to let the public know about the upcoming trial,” Bernard Desgagné, the group’s coordinator, told The Epoch Times.

The trial will be held at the Federal Public Sector Labour Relations Board in Ottawa, an independent quasi-judicial tribunal responsible for administering the grievance adjudication system in the public service and in Parliament, including addressing issues of layoffs, among other priorities.

“We hope that federal public servants who were not aware of our grievances and other legal challenges will hear about us,” said Desgagné, who has worked as a public servant for 28 years.

“They may have been vaccinated under duress, or they resigned or went on retirement before being forced to be put on leave without pay for not wanting to get injected with a substance which cannot be removed from the body after.”

The aim of the court challenge, he added, is to “get a court ruling which will make it impossible for the government to ever again implement such a bad policy.”

Desgagné said both the United Servants and its members’ employers agreed to start the trial with two test cases—grievances filed by Karine Lavoie from Public Services and Procurement Canada and Slim Rehibi from Service Canada.

“Some 60 grievance files were referred to adjudication and will have to be dealt with as well, unless the board decides it does not have jurisdiction during the course of the first trial,” he said.

The group will be represented by William Desrochers, a lawyer based in Gatineau, Quebec. The Attorney General of Canada will represent the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, which rolled out the mandate for “core public administration,” according to court documents.

The Epoch Times contacted the Attorney General of Canada’s office, but a spokesperson replied that the Treasury Board would provide comment.

In an email statement, the Treasury Board said the vaccine mandate was compliant with legislation, including the Privacy Act, the Canadian Human Rights Act, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“The Policy on COVID-19 Vaccination for the Core Public Administration Including the Royal Canadian Mounted Police was implemented in the fall of 2021, with vaccination providing a high degree of protection against infection and transmission of COVID-19 viruses. This approach, which required public servants to be vaccinated as a condition of employment, served as an effective measure to protect public servants and the communities in which they worked,” said spokesman Martin Potvin.

“We will not comment further on specific grievances, as well as other recourses, while these cases are moving through the process at the Federal Public Sector Labour Relations and Employment Board or in other courts.”

‘Completely Incoherent’

United Servants had intended to file for an injunction last year, Desgagné said, but decided against it after a federal court judge ruled in December 2021 that federal employees opposing the vaccine mandate should file a grievance as their case was considered a labour dispute.

Grievances are usually filed with the support of unions, Desgagné said, “except this time, unions completely let us down and told us to get vaccinated.”

“So we had to start filing individual grievances without the help of our unions.”

The grievances, filed in November 2021, alleged that the vaccine mandate contravenes the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which provides for the protection of “right to life, liberty and security of the person.”

“I have people in my family who got sick after getting vaccinated, so I didn’t want to do that because I considered it to be my fundamental rights and I was working remotely from home,” Desgagné said.

“It was completely incoherent because many of us have been working remotely since 2020.”

Desrochers said vaccination policy “coerce[s] someone [to] get a vaccine against their will.”

“It is pretty obvious that [it is an] infringement of your personal autonomy,” the lawyer told The Epoch Times.

‘Much Suffering and Despair’

Desgagné stressed that the ruling in the trial is crucial as it will determine whether the vaccination policy is considered a “disciplinary or administrative measure.”

“We allege that it is a disciplinary measure, while the employer continues to argue that it was an administrative measure. The measure must be disciplinary in nature for us to have the right to refer the grievance to arbitration without the support of our union,” he said.

In addition, the group argued in their grievances that “indefinite leave without pay is not only a disciplinary measure, but a constructive dismissal.”

Desgagné said the back-and-forth in the grievance procedure took months before many of the group’s grievances were referred to adjudication with the board, which then started dealing with them in May of this year.

“I witnessed much suffering and despair among our group, and I was myself greatly affected,” he said.

“Single mothers and other parents were being told that they would not be paid all of a sudden. They also would not get employment insurance benefits and could not even work on their field of expertise since they would be in a conflict of interest.”

On Oct. 21, 2021, Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough said on CBC’s “Power & Politics” program that not being vaccinated is “a condition of employment that hasn’t been met, and the employer choosing to terminate someone for that reason would make that person ineligible for EI.”

“We are [also] asking the board to compensate us for the lost wages and to rule that the policy was at the very least unreasonable, if not unconstitutional,” Desgagné said.

 

Isaac Teo
Isaac Teo is an Epoch Times reporter based in Toronto.

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