In a significant ruling, Canadian Privacy Commissioner Philippe Dufresne has deemed the federal government’s COVID mandates as justifiable and necessary. Dufresne dismissed all complaints filed against vaccine and quarantine requirements, stating that the urgency to curb the virus’s spread presented a substantial challenge for the government and public health authorities. As the COVID crisis rapidly evolved, swift and effective responses became imperative to address the extraordinary public health needs. Consequently, all measures implemented by Prime Minister Trudeau’s cabinet were deemed reasonable under the Privacy Act.
Investigating the complaints, Dufresne considered the necessity and proportionality of each policy aspect. Many grievances were lodged against Trudeau’s COVID travel mandate, which prohibited unvaccinated individuals from flying. In October 2021, Trudeau announced unprecedented COVID-19 jab mandates for federal workers and those in the transportation sector. The rule stated that the unvaccinated would no longer be able to travel domestically or internationally by air, boat, or train, leading to job losses and leaves of absence due to non-compliance.
However, on June 20, 2022, Trudeau temporarily suspended the COVID travel vaccine mandates. Last October, the Canadian federal government lifted all remaining COVID mandates, including masking on planes and trains, COVID testing, and mandatory quarantine for vaccinated individuals.
It is important to note that Dufresne’s investigation did not assess whether the vaccination requirements infringed upon individuals’ freedom of mobility guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Additionally, Dufresne dismissed complaints made by federal workers, including members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and military, who were compelled to disclose their COVID vaccination status under the threat of termination or leave.
Regarding the mandates for federal workers, Dufresne concluded that they were necessary, effective, and proportional given the circumstances. He acknowledged that some complainants felt that collecting employees’ vaccination status and other personal information for accommodation requests were unreasonable. However, Dufresne ruled that Canada’s federal institutions complied with the policy’s collection of personal information.
It is worth mentioning that a previous privacy commissioner ruled in 2021 that mandating any type of COVID shots would violate individuals’ rights. Then-Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien stated that there must be clear legal authority to introduce vaccine passports and mandate vaccinations for each intended purpose. He emphasized that such measures would encroach upon civil liberties and necessitate a newly enacted public health order or law.
Several Canadians who faced termination or leave due to non-compliance with COVID vaccination requirements have challenged these measures, with varying degrees of success. Some federal workers who were dismissed for their vaccination status have managed to have their cases heard by labor boards. Recently, Jennifer Squires, a senior financial services adviser with Parks Canada, was granted a hearing by the Public Sector Labour Relations and Employment Board after her religious exemption was denied, resulting in her suspension without pay.
In addition to individual efforts, larger groups have taken legal action against the federal government. Free to Fly Canada, a significant group of airline workers affected by Trudeau’s federal COVID jab mandate, recently launched a class-action lawsuit seeking full compensation for the vaccine requirement in aviation.
Highlighting the impact of protests against COVID mandates, the Freedom Convoy in Ottawa led Trudeau to enact the Emergencies Act (EA) on February 14, 2022, in order to quell the demonstrations. Trudeau referred to those opposing his measures as a small, fringe minority with unacceptable views that did not represent the broader Canadian population. However, the EA was revoked on February 23 after the protesters had dispersed.
Throughout the COVID crisis, Canadian mainstream media has often failed to acknowledge the known risks associated with the COVID jabs approved for use in Canada and elsewhere. Notably, an earlier study from the United Kingdom demonstrated a significant increase in Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS) occurring between two and four weeks after the administration of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine.
In conclusion, Privacy Commissioner Dufresne’s ruling affirms the legitimacy of the federal government’s COVID mandates in Canada. While some individuals and groups have challenged these measures, Dufresne’s assessment supports the government’s actions as necessary and proportional in the face of the rapidly evolving COVID crisis.