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AHS backs down for third time: recalls all workers on unpaid leave, allows rapid testing

EDMONTON: The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms today reports that, in yet another last-minute amendment to Alberta Health Services (AHS) Vaccine Mandate Policy, on direction of the Alberta Government, AHS will now allow an estimated 1,400 unvaccinated full-time and part-time healthcare workers who were placed on unpaid leave, terminated and/or disciplined by AHS, to return to work with the option of rapid testing.

This comes days after the Justice Centre was in court, requesting a temporary order prohibiting AHS from enforcing the Vaccine Mandate against four doctors, as well as a temporary order directing AHS to follow Alberta’s Restriction Exemption Program and allow Rapid Testing in lieu of vaccination to allow the doctors to continue to practice at AHS sites in Alberta.

The doctors, Dr. Nadr Johman, a specialized orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Blaine Achen, terminated from his position as Chief of Cardiac Anesthesia at the renowned Mazankowski Alberta Hearth Institute, Dr. Gert Grobler, once personal doctor to the Nelson Mandela family, and Dr. Tyler May, one of only two doctors serving the community of Manning, Alberta, went to court after facing termination, restrictions, and disciplinary action for standing against AHS’ Vaccine Mandate. In addition to challenging AHS for constitutional violations, the lawsuit brought by the Justice Centre on behalf of these four doctors advocates for returning to basic medical principles including: recognition of natural immunity, doctor-patient privilege, informed consent, personal autonomy and duty to disclose.

In his one-hour oral decision, Justice Henderson acknowledged that all the doctors had a principled objection to taking the Covid vaccine and that all the doctors have “genuine, subjective concerns with the Covid-19 vaccines that are currently available.”

Justice Henderson went on to say: “One thing is perfectly clear; the Plaintiffs have a right to refuse to take the vaccine. No one can force them to take the vaccine. That is a right that must be respected.”

Justice Henderson declined to grant an Interim Order, stating that it was necessary to hear more comprehensively from AHS before he could fully consider the strength of the legal challenge brought by the doctors. A more comprehensive injunction application is scheduled to occur within the next 3 months.

This is the third time AHS has backtracked on its vaccination policy with health care workers.

On August 31, AHS announced that all frontline workers, physicians, midwives, nurses and contracted staff working in AHS facilities would be required to be fully vaccinated with new Covid shots by October 31. That date was extended to November 30 to allow time to make sure “our workforce is as safe and robust as it can be,” said AHS President and CEO Dr. Verna Yiu in an October 22 address to the province.

On November 29, one day before mandatory vaccinations were to be implemented for all staff, the deadline was again extended to December 13, on the recommendation of the Alberta government. The last extension allowed the option for some AHS staff to undergo covid testing to return to work, but not others.

In response to AHS’ move to recall all the staff it had just placed on indefinite leave, Richard Secord, counsel for the Justice Centre stated, “This is exactly what we asked Justice Henderson to do for our doctor clients in our Interim Injunction Application on December 14.”

“This is great news for our clients, but what will be the cost of AHS’s constant flip-flopping?” asks Eva Chipiuk, Justice Centre Staff Lawyer. “We are 20 months into this pandemic, this type of behaviour would have been acceptable early into the pandemic when little was known. AHS should have known better by now. Finally, it appears the onus is on AHS staff to pay for and obtain these tests on a constant basis, as often as every 48 hours. There has to be some job security for our hard-working health care professionals, so they are not terrorized at every wave of virus in the future.”

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