COVID-19

Justice Canada lawyers challenge mandatory vaccination of federal employees

The mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy imposed by the federal government on its employees is under attack. This time, it’s two Justice Department attorneys, whose job it is to advocate and defend the government against such challenges, who are fighting this battle on their own playing field: Federal Court.

It is not the first time that this policy has been challenged in court: a group of federal government officials and contractors, among others, have already sought — in vain — for it to be suspended pending due process that will determine whether it is valid or not. no.

But the two lawyers who work in Montreal say they have other, and stronger, arguments to make for calling it off. “We have an advantage,” explained Me Jocelyne Murphy, who is leading this case with her colleague Me Sherry Rafai Far, in an interview. This is our area of ​​expertise. »

The judges rejected the suspension requests for several reasons, among them this: the employees had to first file a complaint and exhaust the resources provided for in their collective agreement before going to Federal Justice with a request to have the vaccination policy.

And this is where there is a big difference with his file, Mr. Murphy stressed.

He explained that he had written proof that his union refused to file a complaint on behalf of the two lawyers. In short, since this resource is inaccessible to them, they cannot be blamed for not having used it, Me Murphy argues.

According to the lawyer, the vaccination policy violates the provisions of the collective agreement for lawyers of the Ministry of Justice. Without forgetting that it considers that this requirement was imposed on them “unilaterally”, without negotiation. He denounces that the federal government interferes with the privacy of its employees.

He also argues that his own vaccination is not necessary to ensure the safety of other employees: his job does not involve contact with them or the public. He claims to have been working from home since March 2020, without ever being asked to come to the office by his employer.

Assess special cases

Me Murphy was placed on unpaid leave last November, against his will.

His refusal is based on his fears of the secondary effects of the vaccine: two of his relatives suffered serious consequences, he reports. In addition, the lawyer says that she has a background in biotechnology and molecular biology and worked as a laboratory technician in a company that tested drugs and vaccines on animals. Therefore, the knowledge gained from this work dictates that I be cautious about administering vaccines with so little hindsight, he explained.

With such a broad application policy, the government should allow managers to assess the individual cases of their employees, he continued. The only recognized exceptions are those requested for medical or religious reasons.

Me Murphy, who has worked for the Justice Department for 28 years, said he knew exactly what to plead in a case like this. “Federal Court is my area of ​​expertise. »

“Usually it’s David versus Goliath. We will no longer be in a fight of the titans. »

If they are successful, overriding the policy should benefit all of her colleagues, she believes.

The Fed Strikes Back

The Attorney General of Canada wants to get rid of the two lawyers’ request immediately.

He also advocated a request to this effect on Monday, arguing in particular that this vaccination policy is one of the contract conditions of the two lawyers, which they must respect. In addition, he considers that his request is premature and that they must first exhaust all the resources provided for in their collective agreement.

According to one of the Attorney General’s attorneys, Me Pierre-Marc Champagne, “the true essence” of this dispute is not the validity of the policy, but rather the unpaid suspension of the two attorneys. “First of all, they want to be reinstated to their jobs, on full pay. He said he didn’t think they had an “overarching mission.” The decision for which they were suspended can be the subject of a grievance, he alleged.

This is incorrect, responded Mr. Murphy: the purpose of the procedure is, in effect, to invalidate the policy. And the Attorney General has not presented any evidence to support his argument that there is access to a complaint, Me Rafai Far added.

It would also be in the “public interest” for the legality of this policy to be reviewed as soon as possible before other employers “blindly impose” it on their employees, Me Murphy argued in his proceedings.

The prothonotary of the Federal Court, Mireille Tabib, will deliver her sentence at a later date.

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