Federal Court Justice Janet Fuhrer turned down four Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) members on Wednesday who had sought an injunction against the forces’ vaccine mandate, even as court records show that 1,300 more personnel have requested exemptions.
In October 2021, Chief of Defence Staff General W.D. Eyre had directed all CAF members to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Dec. 18.
In her ruling, Fuhrer turned down the four soldiers’ case on the grounds that their claim did not meet any of the necessary legal standards. The CAF members had gone to court out of fear of being dishonourably released from their duties.
“The applicants also have failed to provide any evidence or arguments to show that their interests outweigh the public interest in ensuring, to the extent possible, the readiness, health and safety of the Forces, the Defence Team (military and civilian personnel), and the vulnerable groups they may be called on to serve,” wrote Fuhrer.
Among those involved in the case was Lt.-Col. Ilon Neri, a pilot for 28 years, and Warrant Officer Morgan Warren, who has served in the CAF for 22 years. None of the applicants has yet been removed from service.
“I do not have confidence in the government’s declaration that (the vaccines) are ‘safe and effective,’” said Lt. Col. Neri in his submission to the court.
“A Canadian Armed Forces member’s unvaccinated status may have additional consequential career implications, including loss of opportunities contributing to promotion, which are outside of Canadian Armed Forces control,” a DND spokesperson told True North.
“Examples may include the inability to attend career courses, deployments, domestic and international exercises, and OUTCAN (outside-of-Canada) postings owing to domestic and international travel restrictions and other nations’ entry requirements.”
The military has also denied unvaccinated CAF members the opportunity to leave the service voluntarily. The last time CAF personnel were allowed to submit a voluntary release request was the day the vaccine mandate went into effect.
To date, the military has issued 71 vaccine exemptions, with 33 on medical grounds, 24 religious and 14 for unspecified reasons.
On Thursday, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole defended the mandate, reiterating that COVID-19 vaccines were safe and effective and that vaccination should be a priority for the military.
“This is a critical job that attaches with it the potential risk that you take by serving your country in uniform, so balancing off and making sure that as many people are vaccinated as possible needs to be the priority for the Canadian Armed Forces,” said O’Toole.