OTTAWA, ON: The Justice Centre announces that the Honourable Brian Peckford, the Honourable Maxime Bernier, and other applicants seek to appeal their vaccine mandate challenge to the Supreme Court of Canada. These Applicants argue that vaccine mandates are an issue of national importance and that Canadians deserve to receive court rulings regarding any emergency orders that violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

In November 2021, the Government of Canada required all travelers of federally regulated transportation services (e.g., air, rail, and marine) to provide proof of Covid vaccination. These restrictions on the Charter freedom of mobility prevented approximately 5.2 million unvaccinated Canadians from traveling by air and rail.

In response to these restrictions, the Honourable Brian Peckford (last living signatory of the Charter and former Premier of Newfoundland), the Honourable Maxime Bernier (leader of the People’s Party of Canada), and other Canadians took the federal government to court in February 2022, arguing that the Charter freedoms of religion and conscience, assembly, democratic rights, mobility, security, privacy, and equality of Canadians were infringed by these restrictions. In addition, affidavits filed in this court action (e.g., the affidavit of Robert Belobaba at paragraph 19) attest that, in a country as large as Canada, prohibitions on domestic and international air travel have significant, negative impacts on Canadians.

In an affidavit (at paragraph 29), Jennifer Little, Director General of Covid Recovery at Transport Canada, provided her Covid Recovery Team’s October 2, 2021 presentation, entitled Implementing a Vaccine Mandate for the Transportation Sector. The presentation outlined options and considerations for the purposes of seeking the Minister of Transport’s approval of the travel vaccination mandate. Her presentation outlined (at pages 12 and 13) that the Canadian travel restrictions in question were “unique in the world in terms of strict vaccine mandate for domestic travel” and were coupled with “one of the strongest vaccination mandates for travelers in the world.” She admitted during cross examination (at paragraphs 162-163, PDF page 61) that she had never seen a recommendation from Health Canada or the Public Health Agency of Canada to the Ministry of Transport to implement a mandatory vaccination policy for travel.

At the same time, Dr. Lisa Waddell, a senior epidemiologist and the knowledge synthesis team lead at the Public Health Agency of Canada, admitted during a cross examination (at paragraphs 300-305, PDF pages 91-93) that there was no recommendation from the Public Health Agency of Canada to impose vaccination requirements on travelers.

In June 2022, the Government of Canada announced that it would suspend the travel vaccine restrictions, but that it would not hesitate to reinstate the mandates if the government considered it necessary.

As a result, the federal government (the Crown) moved to have Premier Peckford’s constitutional challenge struck for mootness (irrelevance). The Crown argued that the travel restrictions were no longer a live issue because they had been lifted and should not, therefore, take up further court resources. The Crown brought this motion after each side had produced expert evidence, called on experts to testify under oath, cross-examined the other side’s experts and witnesses daily for six weeks, conducted significant legal research, and prepared substantive written arguments. Lawyers for both sides spent hundreds of hours placing all the evidence and legal arguments before the Federal Court for its consideration. The only remaining step in the trial process was the presentation of oral argument, scheduled for October 31, 2022. The Federal Court was fully and properly equipped to render a thoughtful decision as to whether the travel restrictions had been a justified violation of Charterfreedoms.

Even though the federal government can impose these same travel restrictions on Canadians again, without notice, the Federal Court granted the Crown’s motion on November 9, 2023, and dismissed this Charter challenge as moot. The Federal Court of Appeal affirmed this lower court ruling on November 9, 2023. Effectively, the courts determined that a constitutional challenge to the use of unprecedented emergency powers was neither sufficiently interesting to the Canadian public nor an appropriate use of court resources.

Premier Peckford, Maxime Bernier, and other Canadians now seek to have the Supreme Court of Canada hear their case. This involves a two-step process, whereby the applicants first ask whether the Court is willing to hear the appeal. If so, the appeal will then be scheduled for a hearing several months later. The applicants in this case argue that the issues raised in their case are of national importance and that Canadians deserve access to court rulings about policies that violate the Charter freedoms of millions of Canadians.

(See the January 8, 2024 Leave Application of Premier Peckford here. See the January 8, 2024 Leave Application of Maxime Bernier here.)

Further, Premier Peckford and the other applicants warn that all challenges to emergency orders risk being deemed irrelevant due to the simple fact that emergency orders are normally implemented only for short periods of time. In most cases, emergency orders will be rescinded by the time a constitutional challenge makes its way through the court process and all the relevant evidence, along with legal arguments, has been put before the judge. For this reason, the Applicants argue that the courts should provide guidance on how emergency orders should be handled in the context of the mootness doctrine.

“If courts are going to affirm and uphold emergency orders that violate our Charter rights and freedoms whenever the emergency order is no longer in force, how can the Charter protect Canadians from government abuses?” asks John Carpay, President of the Justice Centre.

Emergency orders are not debated in, or approved by, federal Parliament or provincial legislatures. Rather, they are discussed confidentially in Cabinet such that ordinary Canadians are prevented from understanding the reasons for, or the legality of, emergency orders, such as mandatory vaccination policies that discriminated against Canadians who chose not to get injected. Therefore, it is only through court rulings that Canadians can learn whether a mandate or emergency order is constitutional.

“The Supreme Court of Canada has an opportunity to create an important precedent for how Canadian courts deal with all so-called ‘moot’ cases involving questions about the constitutionality of emergency orders,” stated lawyer Allison Pejovic, who represents Premier Peckford and Maxime Bernier.

“The public interest in this case is staggering. Canadians need to know whether it is lawful for the federal government to prevent them from travelling across Canada, or from leaving and re-entering their own country, based upon whether they have taken a novel medication,” continued Ms. Pejovic.

“The Court’s dismissal of constitutional challenges to Covid orders for ‘mootness’ has deprived thousands of Canadians from knowing whether their governments’ emergency orders were lawful or not. It is time for the Supreme Court of Canada to expand the legal test for mootness to account for governments’ use of emergency orders, which are devoid of transparency and accountability. Canadians have a right to know whether unprecedented mandatory vaccination policies, which turned millions of Canadians into second-class citizens, were valid under our Constitution,” concluded Ms. Pejovic.