Now that the federal government has imposed mandatory vaccination for all federal employees, RCMP officers are required to be vaccinated.
You would think that those tasked with enforcing the law and those who have been tasked specifically with enforcing the COVID-19 mask mandates, gathering and events orders, and manning roadblocks for travel restrictions in and between provinces would be pleased to roll up their sleeves and get the jab.
But officers from RCMP detachments all across B.C. are currently placed on unpaid leave as a result of their refusal to vaccinate.
The anti-vaccination rhetoric is relatively simple: “forcing” a person to be vaccinated violates their Charter right to life, liberty, and security of the person. And while we can all quibble about whether someone who voluntarily chooses not to be vaccinated and is placed on leave from their employment instead of being fired is actually forcing someone, there is a significant flaw in the logic of the officers who espouse this view.
Charter rights can be violated.
The police know this. They know this because they violate Charter rights routinely. It’s just that those violations are “saved” under Section 1 of the Charter. This section allows infringement of the rights in a manner that is justifiable in a free and democratic society… you know, like in a pandemic, to protect health and safety.
There’s a hilarious irony here.
The view that these police officers have that their Charter rights are being violated by an infringement that has already been shown to be justified under Section 1 is completely opposite their views about any other Charter infringing conduct police routinely engage in.
Now, I’ve never met a police officer who refuses to participate in impaired driving enforcement.
I’ve never met a police officer who will not - if directed to do so - stand at a roadblock and randomly stop drivers to screen for sobriety. No officer would say “I don’t do impaired driving enforcement because the law has found that it violates Charter rights.”
And it’s true. The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that random traffic stops and roadblocks violate your rights. But the violation is justified because, you know, impaired driving kills people and so health and safety win.
Kind of like how COVID kills people.
Even roadside sobriety tests, like the kind police administer in roadblocks all over B.C. this holiday season, have been repeatedly found by the Supreme Court of Canada to violate the Charter. But again, that infringement has been justified because nobody wants other people to die because of one person’s selfish decision to put others at risk.
The reliance on the Charter to claim that vaccine mandates for federal employment by the RCMP infringe rights is pretty rich.
Apparently, to these officers, Charter rights only matter when the infringement affects them, but not when it affects the people they’re dealing with.
Kyla Lee is a Vancouver-based criminal lawyer.