Firefighters suing City of Calgary over now-suspended COVID-19 vaccine policy

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19 firefighters suing City of Calgary over now-suspended COVID-19 vaccine policy
A group of former and current firefighters has filed a lawsuit against the City of Calgary over its employee COVID-19 vaccine policy. Adam MacVicar reports – Jul 19, 2022

A group of firefighters has filed a lawsuit against the City of Calgary over its employee COVID-19 vaccine policy, claiming it caused damages and violated their rights.

In a statement of claim filed on July 7 with the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench, 19 firefighters are seeking $38 million in damages from the city over the policy.

None of the allegations have been proven in court and the City of Calgary has not yet filed a statement of defence.

City officials did not provide comment stating the matter is before the courts.

“The Plaintiffs have suffered measurable damages, including mental distress, anxiety, and, in particular, injury to dignity and self-respect,” the statement of claim reads. “The Plaintiffs are therefore entitled to significant damages due to the manner in which the City suspended their employment, including a claim for punitive aggravated damages arising from flagrant human rights and Charter violations.”

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According to the lawsuit, the vaccine policy created a “hostile and toxic work environment” in which the plaintiffs claim they were forced to “either attest or be put on unpaid leave of absence under the threat of discipline or termination,” calling it “discrimination based on medical status.”

The lawsuit claims there were violations of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and Charter and criminal assault.

According to Allison Pejovic, legal counsel with the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, the lawsuit is “all-encompassing” and has many “possible roads to success.”

“These cases are definitely worth bringing and worth getting a precedent on, win or lose.  Canadians need to know where the courts stand,” Pejovic told Global News. “Whether this is the new way forward, that you need to be subject to a drug treatment, medical treatment, in order to go about your basic life.”

The City of Calgary introduced its COVID-19 vaccine policy for its employees in October 2021, which stated all city employees must have two doses of the vaccine or provide a negative test result regularly to continue their duties. Any employee who refused either option would be placed on leave without pay.

Originally, the city policy stated unvaccinated employees would need to pay for their own tests after Dec. 1, but the city continued to offer free at-home testing kits following the deadline.

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The lawsuit claims some of the plaintiffs sought religious and medical exemptions but were denied.

According to the statement of claim, some of the plaintiffs “lost their sole or primary source of income,” while others that were placed on unpaid leave returned to work when the policy was amended to allow for rapid testing.

The policy was suspended on March 7, and the city said that employees who aren’t fully vaccinated no longer needed to participate in rapid testing.

At the time, city officials told Global News that 98 per cent of its employees complied with the policy, and 95 per cent of its staff were fully vaccinated.

“The health of the people is the supreme law,” Alana Cattapan, assistant professor and Canada Research chair at the University of Waterloo said. “I think in this case, any court interpreting the Charter would likely put the health and safety of Canadians and the people of Calgary in particular, in this case calling first responders, over vaccine objections.”

The Calgary Firefighters’ Association, the union representing local firefighters, said more than 90 per cent of its membership is fully vaccinated.

“We understand how important it is for our members, who interact with the general public in their worst moments, to follow public safety guidelines,” association president Codey McIntyre said in a statement.

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“We will continue to represent our members and listen to the advice of healthcare professionals.”

Leighton Grey, the lawyer representing the firefighters in the lawsuit, declined an interview request from Global News.

Grey is also representing a group of Albertans who sought to have pandemic health measures ruled unconstitutional.

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