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Alberta's premier wants vaccine status to be a human right, critics concerned about problems it could pose


Premier Danielle Smith is sticking to her plan to amend the Alberta Human Rights Act to include vaccination status. It’s aimed at those who don’t want a COVID-19 shot, but critics fear it would encompass so much more.

Lorian Hardcastle, associate professor in the faculty of law at the University of Calgary, said vaccination choice is not the same as codifying rights around gender, sexual orientation, race or religion.

“You can’t equate that to the kind of historical discrimination and disadvantage experienced by some of the other groups in the human right legislation,” she told CTV News.

The amendment could impact workplaces that require staff to be vaccinated for their safety and the public’s.

Nurses, for instance, are required to be vaccinated against tetanus, Hepatitis B, measles, mumps and rubella, among other things.

The union representing nurses in Alberta says taking away those requirements would be “ill-informed.”

“Certainly it protects the health-care workers, but even more importantly, it protects the public and you know, we need to do everything we can to mitigate and reduce risk,” said Heather Smith, president of the United Nurses of Alberta.

Danielle Smith has repeatedly linked the health-care system’s strain to the fact that health employers had required COVID vaccinations, even though the vast majority of health-care workers did get the shot.

“Another ill-informed analysis of the problem,” Heather Smith said.

Infectious disease specialist Dr. Craig Jenne said over the last 100 years, vaccines have been the single-most effective healthcare tool ever developed.

“Today, we live in a Canada that is essentially free of polio and free of other infectious diseases because previous generations did their part with vaccines,” he said.

“And one thing we know about infectious diseases is we simply don’t know what’s coming next and to put a critical tool away might be a bit short-sighted.”

In a statement, the premier’s office said, “The premier has been clear; it’s unacceptable for people to be discriminated on the basis of a medical choice. The premier has every intention of amending the Alberta Human Rights Act to reflect that.”

If the amendment is made, workplaces that keep their vaccine requirements could become the subject of a human rights complaint.

Hardcastle said those workplaces would then have to show that it’s a “bonafide occupational requirement,” such as instances where staff work with vulnerable populations at places like long-term care homes and hospitals.

Former premier Jason Kenney already removed the power of mandatory vaccination from the Alberta Health Act, and since then, the province has already dropped most vaccine mandates.

Hardcastle wonders why the Human Rights Act change is needed at all.

“I think what we’re seeing is are ideological decision-making and a desire to appeal to her voting base and that’s not what we need, particularly in the realm of public health, from our premier.” Top Stories

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