CALGARY -- The Alberta Medical Association (AMA) has launched a lawsuit seeking more than $250 million in damages from the province for what it calls a denial of their charter rights during negotiations.

The suit was filed Thursday, nearly two months after the UCP government ended its existing contract with doctors, and in the middle of the largest health crisis in more than a century.

The two sides had spent months negotiating the new contract, which was set to expire April 1.

"On Feb. 20 the minister of health terminated our negotiations and ripped up our contract," said AMA president Dr. Christine Molnar in an interview.

"In doing that, he violated the charter rights of every physician in Alberta."

The suit names the AMA itself as a plaintiff — "which represents the political, clinical and economic interests of the overwhelming majority of physicians practicing in and across Alberta" — along with Molnar, president-elect Dr. Paul Boucher and former president Dr. Alison Clarke.

"The action takes issue with Bill 21, the government’s conduct in negotiations, the termination of the AMA Agreement and the overall imbalance in the bargaining relationship between the AMA and government," reads a statement sent to AMA members.

"The best case scenario would be for the AMA and government to reach a negotiated agreement while this legal case proceeds. Failing that, the best case scenario would be for a court to conclude that AMA must have access to arbitration to address bargaining disputes and the government cannot unilaterally change matters relating to physician compensation."

The statement describes the relationship between the AMA and the province as being "at a historically low point," and says doctors are seeking two things.

"Fair and reasonable negotiations toward an agreement (and) the right to third-party arbitration, which is something that is available to every other essential service provider in this province."

Boucher said the right to independent, third-party arbitration is a key one for doctors.

"The Supreme Court has said these elements are necessary for meaningful collective bargaining. In this case, physicians have no right to strike, they've had their ability to go before arbitration over bargaining disputes taken away from them and they have not had access to meaningful collective bargaining," he said.

"The government conduct challenged in this legislation has attacked the core of freedom of association, it's attacked the AMA's status as exclusive representative. AMA has been reduced to collective begging, not collective bargaining and these are, we say, fundamental attacks on freedom of association."

A statement of defence has not yet been filed.

As of Wednesday afternoon, there are 1,423 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Alberta and there have been 29 deaths attributed to it.

The province has declared a state of public health emergency and most cities and towns in the province have declared states of local emergency.