Confident they were right to deploy a vaccine mandate earlier in the pandemic, City of Greater Sudbury staff are prepared to join others by defending themselves in a class-action lawsuit.
“We've got this obligation to take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances to protect a worker,” city Corporate Services general manager Kevin Fowke told Sudbury.com of the city’s mandate, which dictates all city staff members must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
“That's a general Occupational Health and Safety tenet.”
A class-action lawsuit filed against 72 Ontario municipalities, school boards and municipal organizations, claims that vaccine mandates resulting in the unvaccinated losing their jobs were “unconstitutional.”
“All the plaintiffs possess a conscientious and/or physical/medical reason for refusing to take the COVID-19 ‘vaccines,’” according to the statement of claim filed by the Rocco Galati Law Firm.
“While ‘exemptions’ to these ‘mandatory vaccine mandates’ exist, in theory, all of the Plaintiffs who sought an exemption were arbitrarily denied without reasons,” according to the statement of claim. “The Plaintiffs further state that there is no obligation to seek any exemption before refusing the vaccines.”
The statement of claim includes various points of misinformation regarding the pandemic, including a claim that COVID-19 was not a pandemic, “beyond and/or exceeding the consequences of the fallout of the pre-COVID annual flu or influenza.”
It also claims that more people have died as a result of COVID-19 measures than the virus itself. The alleged deaths that came as a result of COVID-related measures are not quantified.
As of this week, there have been 4.6 million confirmed COVID-19 cases in Canada since the pandemic began, and 51,447 deaths.
In the 2018-19 influenza season, Health Canada recorded 613 flu-related intensive care unit admissions and 224 deaths.
Former City of Greater Sudbury employee Tracy Peura is part of the class-action lawsuit, which resulted in the city’s inclusion. Sudbury.com reached out to Peura by phone and Facebook messenger but have not received a response.
The lawsuit seeks $550,000 in compensation for each of its plaintiffs, which would total $126 million.
The City of Greater Sudbury announced its vaccine mandate in September 2021, at which time they noted all staff members must be fully vaccinated by Nov. 14 of that year. Exemptions would be made for those with valid Human Rights Code-based medical or religious reasons.
With most city staff members proving compliant as the city eased toward enforcing the policy, with leave initially granted for the unvaccinated until such time as they received the required shots, 51 employees ended up losing their jobs.
One person received an exemption on human rights-related religious grounds. The city followed legal advice in their decisions to deny or grant exemptions, Fowke said.
Employees were from across various departments, and 21 were volunteer firefighters.
The city’s executive leadership team looked at the vaccine mandate again last month, and decided it’d be best to keep it in place due to the COVID-19 virus still being out there.
“We have not seen the class action other than in the newspaper, so there has been nothing officially served to the city,” Fowke said, adding that they’ll go through a similar process as they do with any employment-related grievance filed against the city, of which there have already been some among the 51 people who lost their jobs.
“We'll be defending the reasonableness of the policy,” Fowke said. “There are quite a few cases now starting to pile up around the province in terms of how these cases are being handled.”
Everything the city did in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic was done under the guidance of Public Health Sudbury and Districts, he added, alongside the best advice from provincial and federal health officials.
“We continue to follow the guidance.”.
As of March 8, Public Health Sudbury and Districts reports that 84.6 per cent of people six months of age and older have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 81.5 per cent have received at least two doses. They counted 11 active COVID-19 outbreaks.
Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.