The City of Quesnel controversially terminated the employment of some unvaccinated workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, citing their vaccination status as cause for dismissal.
The plaintiffs filed a legal challenge against the city and province with the B.C. Supreme Court, seeking aggravated and punitive damages under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Their counsel told Justice Nathan Smith that vaccines are neither necessary, safe, nor effective, arguing that Quesnel's mandatory vaccination policy infringed on their bodily integrity.
Smith also heard from the city, which asked the court to rule on jurisdiction. "I was told their union has filed a series of grievances, and the first arbitration hearing was scheduled to take place before these reasons could be issued," he said.
The defendant's counsel claimed a grievance arbitration board had exclusive jurisdiction to dismiss its employees as members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, per the Labour Relations Code.
The plaintiffs' counsel counter-argued that the mandate dealt with broader issues of "social or collective good" beyond the context of their employment.
The City of Quesnel said the merit of the plaintiff's allegations against them and that the policy issues they raised should bear no weight in the verdict reached. Smith ultimately ruled in favour of the defendants, as there are "few aspects of a collective agreement as fundamental" as cause for dismissal. The judge also noted that the plaintiffs brought the suit in their capacities as former city workers and did not represent anyone else in a certified class action beyond their employment.
However, Smith didn't rule on the constitutionality of the municipality's mandate. "The plaintiffs may correct some or all of the issues they seek to raise the need to be litigated, but it's still necessary that issues come before the court in an action properly framed to raise them," he said before dismissing the claim with costs.
Smith ruled that the plaintiffs must relitigate the mandate's constitutionality in a different proceeding. "There is probably a cause of action and form of proceeding that would allow them to do so, but an action in which they claim damages arising out of their loss of employment with the city is not one that properly raises those issues."
The city revoked its vaccination mandate for city employees, volunteers, and contractors on Thursday — a policy that came into effect in 2021.