Quebec health minister questions legal challenge of vaccine mandate for health-care workers

MONTREAL — A hearing for a legal challenge of Quebec’s vaccine mandate for health-care workers is set for Thursday, one day before the contested government policy takes effect for thousands of employees across the province.

The Oct. 15 vaccine mandate will result in suspension without pay for all health and social services workers who aren’t fully vaccinated.

On Tuesday, a Montreal-based lawyer filed a safeguard order in court, on behalf of health-care workers, to give the court notice that she intends to argue the policy is a violation of workers’ rights and is not in the best interest of the Quebecers due to its possible effect on the health-care system.

She is expected to present her case at an emergency hearing on Thursday. 

Health Minister Christian Dubé defended the policy on Tuesday, saying it is based on a recommendation from public health.

“I think that what we’ve seen in our hospitals in the last 18 months — I have a little question in my mind, back in my ears, saying, ‘Why are they contesting that?’ when they see all the negative impacts of their colleagues at work, that right now… are resisting vaccination, when you see what is the implication of not being vaccinated,” Dubé said during a tour in Gatineau.

“If they want to take a legal road, that’s up [to them] and we have lawyers; we’ll look at it.”

He told reporters he would have preferred all workers would have heeded the government’s repeated warnings since September to get their two doses of the vaccine in order to prevent a disruption in service.

He maintained that more details will be revealed this week about the province’s plans to reorganize services to mitigate the potential loss of workers across the entire health and social services sector.

When asked by a reporter what the impact will be if thousands of workers can’t go to work after Oct. 15, Dubé responded “your question is premature.”

The vaccine mandate applies to all kinds of workers, from nurses and technicians to administration and cleaning staff. As of last Thursday, approximately 27,000 employees were not fully vaccinated and more than 15,000 workers had not had their first dose.

Out of Quebec’s 75,000 nurses, roughly 4,500 — or 6 per cent — are not fully vaccinated.

Around 2,500 patient attendants also remain unvaccinated against COVID-19, Dube said, adding that the province is already short around 5,000 nurses.

The health minister congratulated Quebec’s order of nurses, which confirmed it will go ahead with suspending the licences of its workers who are not vaccinated. 

“The signal is clear: it will not be possible to circumvent the mandatory vaccination in the health network on 15 Oct,” the minister tweeted on Tuesday.

“I encourage all nurses who are not yet vaccinated to go and do it. It’s never too late.”

With thousands of workers set to walk off the job, he acknowldged it’s a “big issue” for emergency rooms and long-term care homes that will be affected. 

“We respect their choice, but… there are people who will have to leave on Saturday and these people will lose benefits… in terms of vacation, contributions to pension funds,” he told reporters in a press scrum.

He also said Quebec will not budge on the Oct. 15 deadline. 

“We are not moving on the date,” he told reporters.

A contingency plan will be announced in the coming days to work around the expected staffing shortfalls, Dubé said, involving the “reorganization” of services. 

–With files from The Canadian Press

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