A Calgary-based charter rights advocacy group says it will launch a legal challenge against the government of Quebec regarding its plan to impose a “health tax” on residents who refuse to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
On Jan. 11, Quebec Premier Francois Legault said a “significant” financial penalty will be imposed as a tax for those who refuse the vaccine. He didn’t reveal how much the penalty will be or when it will be implemented, but said later in the week that a bill to impose the measure will be put forth to the province’s legislature in February for a vote.
The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms announced that it will take legal action against the province in a statement issued Thursday.
“The proposed Quebec ‘health tax’ is an egregious violation of the Charter rights of Quebecers and an affront to equality which Canada was, in times past, known for,” the Justice Centre’s president John Carpay said.
“This is a blatant attack on a minority of society. Historically, persecution of a minority through taxation has paved the way for further and worse measures. We will fight this discriminatory and unscientific tax in court and defend the right to bodily autonomy of Quebecers and all Canadians. This injustice has no place in Canada.”
In May 2021, Legault said he would gradually lift restrictions and return to normalcy if 75 percent of adult Quebecers were vaccinated.
Currently, the province has exceeded that goal, with 85 percent of eligible residents receiving at least one shot, and 78 percent fully vaccinated with two required doses.
Quebec has implemented some of the strictest public health measures in North America. On Dec. 31, 2021, the province reintroduced a nightly curfew from 10:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m., which will be lifted on Jan. 17. Quebec had previously imposed a similar curfew for five months from January to May 2021.
On Jan. 13, Legault said the province will extend its “vaccine passport” requirement to large indoor retail settings of more than 1,500 square metres, including big box stores like Canadian Tire, Wal-Mart, and Costco. Grocery stores and pharmacies are some of the exceptions, which are deemed essential.
“The announcement of a tax on those who decline the COVID injections, like the ‘vaccine passport,’ is discrimination and wrong,” Carpay said.
“Vaccines do not stop people from contracting or spreading COVID, so there is no medical or scientific justification for the financial persecution and discrimination against vaccine-free citizens.”
The Justice Centre noted that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms states that every individual has the right to “bodily autonomy,” which means a person has the “right to control his/her own bodily integrity.”
Another civil rights group, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA), criticized Quebec’s proposal in a statement released Wednesday, saying it raises “significant equity concerns.”
“We know that some of those who remain unvaccinated are individuals who face serious barriers to accessing health care, and many have a low level of trust in the system because of negative experiences in the past,” said Cara Zwibel, director of Fundamental Freedoms and acting general counsel for the CCLA.
“This is a divisive measure that will end up punishing and alienating those who may be most in need of public health supports and services.”
A number of European countries have imposed some kind of financial burden on unvaccinated citizens. In Austria, the first nation in Europe to create such a tax, a fine of up to 3,600 euros (roughly C$5,100) will be levied on people aged 14 and over who refused to receive a vaccine every three months.
In Greece, individuals over 60 years old will incur a fine of 100 euros (C$143) if they still haven’t received a shot by Jan. 16.