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N.B. education minister open to removing notwithstanding clause from mandatory vaccination bill

WATCH: The Nova Scotia legislature is still debating the proposed mandatory vaccines bill. Silas Brown has more.

If it means the legislation gets cross-party support, New Brunswick’s education minister said he’s open to removing a controversial clause from the province’s mandatory vaccination bill.

Dominic Cardy told Global News on Monday that he was happy with Bill 11 if it included the notwithstanding clause, a provision of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms which allows governments to override parts of the charter.

“I have made it clear last week and said the same thing this week that I’m very open to having amendments that will guarantee cross-party support for this bill, because this is about protecting vulnerable children,” he said in a phone interview.

“If the only obstacle between the Liberals offering support for this legislation is there’s an obstacle, then I’d certainly be happy to look at having it taken out.”

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The decision came after Leader of New Brunswick’s Liberal Opposition announced that his party is prepared to introduce an amendment to remove the notwithstanding clause if need be.

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Kevin Vickers called for the clause to be stripped from Bill 11 in a press release on Monday.

“For the first time in this province’s history, [Education Minister Dominic Cardy] is proposing legislation that denies individual rights and freedom… He is taking away fundamental individual rights. This is a dangerous precedent,” he said.

“If the Conservatives don’t remove this clause, the Liberal official opposition will propose an amendment and call for a free vote on this bill.”

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READ MORE: Inclusion of notwithstanding clause endangering New Brunswick mandatory vaccination bill

Bill 11, also known as New Brunswick’s Act Respecting Proof of Immunization, would require children in public schools and licenced daycare facilities to provide proof of immunization or a medical exemption signed by a medical professional.

Currently, non-medical exemptions are allowed.

Cardy said the inclusion of the notwithstanding clause came after New Brunswick’s office of the attorney general reviewed the bill and was of the opinion that the province would ultimately lose a legal challenge of the legislation.

Activists opposing the legislation said earlier this year that they’d be prepared to fight the then-proposed vaccination bill in court.

Anti-vaccine groups vow to fight New Brunswick’s new vaccine regulations
Anti-vaccine groups vow to fight New Brunswick’s new vaccine regulations

Cardy said that the provincial government is prepared for a court case if necessary.

“If there is a court case we will fight that because, in the end, this is this is about the rights of kids who today can’t go to school,” he said.

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So this discussion around rights being infringed, there are real rights being infringed today. That’s what this legislation is designed to address and to make sure those children are protected and can attend school.”

Cardy was alluding to an outbreak of measles at Saint John-area high schools and 30 confirmed cases of whooping cough in Moncton earlier this year.

Opposition parties have agreed that vaccinations are important, but say that the bill isn’t worth the cost of overriding Charter rights.

“We’ve never before stripped people of their basic rights in this province,” said Vickers.

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READ MORE: 9 in 10 Canadians believe vaccines should be mandatory for school

The Progressive Conservatives hold only a slim majority in the province’s legislature and other opposition parties have expressed their concerns.

Green Party leader David Coon said he could not support the bill in its current form, going as far as to say “it should never have been contemplated,” but would vote for it without the clause.

People’s Alliance of New Brunswick MLAs were still undecided on which way their vote would fall, but leader Kris Austin said that a free vote would be allowed.

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If the bill were to pass as-is New Brunswick would join Saskatchewan and Quebec as the only provinces to have implemented the notwithstanding clause since it was introduced in 1982.

Alberta and Ontario have brought in legislation proposing the use of the clause, but have either dropped their bills before they were passed or they were not brought into effect.

— With files from The Canadian Press, Silas Brown