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BC public servants face firing over vaccine mandate

At issue is a Nov. 19 provincial government order that makes COVID‑19 vaccination a condition of employment for all BC public service employees.

Nine BC public servants are set to go to court to fight a vaccine mandate that could result in them losing their jobs.

Last week, four of the almost 400 public servants who refused to show proof of immunization and are facing termination, filed an action in BC Supreme Court in hopes of petitioning the court to stop the terminations. The number has since risen to nine.

At issue is a Nov. 19 provincial government order that makes COVID‑19 vaccination a condition of employment for all BC public service employees.

Court documents say the vaccine policy fundamentally altered the employees’ contract “without proper notice or agreement or their consent, in order to terminate them without any sort of due process or procedural fairness, for just cause.”

The court filing says the vaccine mandate should be quashed. The mandate is expected to be in place until “public health concerns regarding COVID are reduced to a level, prescribed by government, to enable workplaces to operate without COVID-related restrictions.”

Pending a judicial review of their case, the petitioners are seeking an injunction to stop terminations from proceeding.

The petitioners “have each made the choice, based on strongly held conviction of conscience, to either not get vaccinated at this time or disclose whether they have received the COVID-19 vaccination,” say court documents.

Documents show the original petitioners are Philip Davidson, 39, a former director of policy and stakeholder relations, Karine Bordua, 49, privacy officer, Zoran Boskovic, 58, senior manager for major projects, and Clinton Chevrier, 38, human resources service representative.

The four were under contracts in four different government ministries and have nearly 60 years of combined service with the provincial government. On Jan. 17, Davidson was given a “final warning letter” and the Public Service Agency indicated his employment would be terminated on Feb. 23.

This week, five more petitioners joined the action: Emily Coburn, Caterina Bova, Brenda Johnson, Zorica Boskovic and Monica Maria Zuluaga, said lawyer Umar Sheikh of Crease Harman, co-counsel on the case.

“We expect more to continue adding their names,” Sheikh said Wednesday. Some public servants who complied with the vaccine mandate are lending financial support to the action, he said.

BC’s attorney general has said the province will give 14 days’ notice of any firings, said Sheikh, who hopes that will allow the petitioners time to have their case for an injunction heard. It is scheduled for the week of March 21.

Sheikh said that the vaccine order is unconstitutional, goes against the Charter of Rights and “fundamentally alters the employment contract.”

Employees can only request an exemption from the vaccine requirement based on a medical condition or other protected ground as defined under B.C’s Human Rights Code.

No exemption is provided, however, for freedom of conscience or security of the person under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, say court documents.

Beyond the charter challenge, Sheikh questions how the firings benefit public health or British Columbians at large, saying the province will have to recruit and rehire for the positions and will lose decades of expertise.

Sheikh said a separate action is being considered against the BC General Employees’ Union “for failure to represent.”

BCGEU president Stephanie Smith said recently the vast majority of its approximate 30,000 members are vaccinated.

BC Public Service Employees for Freedom, a group formed late last year in response to the public service vaccine mandate, welcomed more colleagues standing behind the petition “to end the unnecessary, unjust and unethical vaccine mandate and terminations.”

It says its registered membership is nearly 500, including union and non-union staff and management.

In a statement, the group cites an unnamed BC Corrections worker in the south-central Interior as saying the BCGEU has “abandoned” them and “sided with the NDP government on this vaccine mandate.”

ceharnett@timecolonist.com

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