The Federal Court is scheduled to hear arguments on Wednesday from four members of the Canadian Armed Forces who are subject to disciplinary action for refusing to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
The Chief of the Defense Staff, General Wayne Eyre, has ordered all members of the armed forces to be vaccinated before the end of November, on pain of disciplinary action, including possible dismissal. This deadline has since been postponed to December 18.
The order follows a similar demand for all federal public servants, with the Liberal government seeking to lead by example in ensuring that all Canadians get vaccinated. Mr. Eyre also clarified that his decree was aimed at protecting the military during the pandemic.
In affidavits, the four servicemen challenging the order say they oppose the vaccine for a variety of reasons, including concerns about its long-term safety and religious grounds.
“I don’t trust the government’s statement that the vaccine is safe and effective,” Lt. Col. Illo Antonio Neri said. “Specifically, I do not believe that the trials have accurately discovered and assessed all of the potential long-term effects of vaccines. “
Although Mr. Eyre’s order allows for medical, religious and human rights exemptions, lawyer Catherine Christensen, who represents the four servicemen, confirmed to The Canadian Press that their requests were all denied. .
The four servicemen maintain that not only are their constitutional rights violated, but that the threat of dismissal is extreme.
“During my time in the Canadian Armed Forces, I have seen members convicted of serious offenses who were not discharged from service,” said Warrant Officer Morgan Christopher Warren in his affidavit.
Government lawyers have submitted hundreds of pages of documents to support their arguments that vaccines are safe and effective. They also argued that if the four service members are not satisfied, they should file a grievance with the military.
Ms Christensen argues that this would be inappropriate since the order was given by the army’s highest commander. If the Federal Court grants its request for a temporary injunction, it plans to ask the court to hear the case in its entirety.
The four members of the armed forces are not the first to challenge federal immunization requirements. Earlier this month, the Federal Court refused to grant an injunction to dozens of federal officials who also face dismissal for refusing to be vaccinated.
According to Defense Ministry spokesman Daniel Le Bouthillier, around 98% of the military said they had been vaccinated, the majority of those who have not yet done so being reservists or people on leave.
Exemptions for medical, religious or human rights reasons have been requested by 800 members, but Mr Le Bouthillier could not say how many had been approved as officials continue to urge more people to get vaccinated before the deadline of December 18.
Mr. Le Bouthillier added that the army would not dismiss any soldier “until the corrective measures have not been exhausted” and that the first forced dismissals should not take place before January because of “necessary administrative delays”.
“At any point during the process, members can change their mind and be vaccinated, in which case the member becomes compliant with the CDS directive and the conclusion of corrective actions should be considered. Added the spokesperson for the Ministry of Defense.