Quebec judge refuses injunction against abandoned vaccine mandate for health workers

·4 min read

MONTREAL — A Quebec Superior Court judge on Monday rejected a request for injunction against the province's COVID-19 vaccine mandate for health-care workers, nearly two weeks after the government suspended the health order.

Justice Michel Yergeau's 47-page decision denied the request by unvaccinated health network employees, including nurses, doctors and other workers. The applicants weren't able to demonstrate that the order wasn't in the interest of the public, and he said it could enter into force even if there isn't consensus on it.

It is not for the court, Yergeau wrote, "to rule summarily on proposals which oppose individual rights and what the elected officials consider in the public interest and which leaves room for debate."

Earlier this month, the Quebec government abandoned its Nov. 15 deadline for health-care staff to be vaccinated or suspended without pay, because it worried the order would significantly reduce services in the overburdened system. Instead, it required unvaccinated staff to be tested three times a week and for new hires to be fully vaccinated.

The case on its merits — whether a mandatory vaccination order is constitutional — won't be heard until sometime in 2022, if at all. "With regards to the investigation on the merits … it will remain to be determined whether the questions raised by the applicants still play a useful role in requiring the attention of the court,” Yergeau wrote.

Meanwhile, Quebec reported 509 new COVID-19 cases Monday and one more death attributed to the novel coronavirus. The seven-day average of new daily cases was 634. Health authorities said hospitalizations rose by 13 to 202, after 21 patients entered hospital and eight patients were discharged. The number of people in intensive care remained stable at 42.

Also Monday, Quebec lifted restrictions on karaoke bars and on dancing in bars and clubs, and it allowed high school students to remove masks inside classrooms. Some experts, however, raised concerns Quebec was relaxing measures too quickly.

COVID-STOP, a collective of health experts across Quebec, wrote an open letter on Monday urging the government to recognize viral transmission by aerosol and implement measures to prevent spread. Nimâ Machouf, an epidemiologist at Université de Montréal’s school of public health and one of the signatories, said removing masks in high schools, where not all children have been vaccinated, will put everyone at risk of infection.

“It’s too early — especially before Christmas,” Machouf said in an interview Monday. “It’s like replaying last year’s movie. We were expecting that the government would have learned from it — the timing is not right.”

Physicist Nancy Delagrave, also of COVID-STOP, said she doesn’t feel like the government is listening to health experts. She said studies indicate that aerosol spread represents between 85 to 100 per cent of all novel coronavirus transmission, adding that ventilation and masks are measures that will make a difference.

“We all want the pandemic to be over, but it’s not because we want it that it will be,” Delagrave said in an interview Monday.

Health Minister Christian Dubé told reporters in Rimouski, Que., he didn't think the government was removing restrictions too quickly. “I don’t think we’re going too fast, but we must be prudent,” he said.

Dubé acknowledged that new daily cases in the province have risen over the past two weeks, but he said the increase is attributable to transmission among younger school-aged kids who aren't eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Another factor, he added, is a jump in cases in regions of Quebec with a relatively high number of unvaccinated people, including Nunavik, in northern Quebec; pockets in regions like Estrie, east of Montreal; and in Chaudière-Appalaches, south of Quebec City.

In Estrie, high schools in two communities will maintain masking inside classrooms. Dr. Alain Poirier, the regional health director, said the decision was taken after authorities noted a single case had more than 100 contacts. The schools are located in East Angus, Que., and Lac-Megantic, Que.

“Between closing a school and telling students to keep their masks in classrooms, it was quite an easy discussion to have,” Poirier said in an interview Monday. “Our intention is not to harm children, but on the contrary, to prevent having to close the school and to send them home.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 15, 2021.

Sidhartha Banerjee and Virginie Ann, The Canadian Press

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