Filed in federal court last week, the court action demands $1 million in damages for each of the 329 plaintiffs, plus declarations that mandating COVID shots for CAF members violated the rights of Canadian military members, plus punitive recompense.
Catherine Christensen of Edmonton’s Valour Legal Action Centre told the National Post the suit has less to do with COVID-19 and more about addressing concerns within Canada’s top military leadership, and acts she described as both malicious and unlawful.
“This is not about COVID-19, this is about a corrupt chain of command that thinks they are untouchable and above the law.”
The statement of claim specifically names as defendants Minister of Defence Anita Anand, Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Wayne Eyre, Vice Defence Staff Chief Lt.-Gen. Frances Allen, Surgeon General Maj.-Gen. J.G.M. Bilodeau, Judge Advocate General Rear Adm. Geneviève Bernatchez, and others.
In response to inquiries by the National Post, a Department of National Defence spokesperson said DND doesn’t comment on potential legal action.
While COVID-19 vaccination isn’t mandatory for joining the Canadian Forces, the spokesperson said members are “strongly encouraged” to do so.
Last April, Lt.-Gen. Allen told the House national defence committee that of the over 1,300 Canadian Forces personnel who at that time applied for vaccination exemptions, only 158 were approved.
“When mandatory vaccination became a requirement for both entry into the Canadian Forces and for service in the Canadian Forces, we set out to have our people vaccinated or committed to have every individual fill out an attestation as to their vaccination status,” she told committee members at the time.
“The Canadian Armed Forces has abused its unique position in Canadian government for decades at the expense of the members of the CAF and the former members of the CAF,” read the statement of claim.
“This has emerged in previous cases before this Court concerning sexual misconduct and abuse, among other proven claims.”
While federal vaccination mandates were lifted for most Canadians last June — including RCMP members and civilian defence employees — rules remained in place for most active-duty CAF members.
While civilians opting against the shot were put on leave without pay until federal mandates lifted, military personnel instead faced discipline and even removal from the service for defying vaccination rules.
Christensen’s statement of claim contains stories from all 329 plaintiffs, a group that includes both officers and enlisted personnel.
One officer, a lieutenant commander who served as deputy commandant of the naval fleet school in Quebec, said she was forced to voluntarily end her 21-year career over her reluctance to get the shot, lest she be dismissed involuntarily under Sec. 5(f) under the Queen’s Regulations and Orders for the Canadian Forces — legislation that outlines Canada’s military law.
Releases under Sec. 5(f) — service completed, unsuitable for further service — are defined as those due to “conditions of military life or other factors within the officer or non-commissioned member’s control,” those who develop “personal weaknesses” domestic problems that either “seriously impair” their usefulness to CAF, or those who represent an “excessive administrative burden.”
Francesco Qualizza, the case’s lead plaintiff, was a sergeant assigned as a targeting and effects analyst in Ottawa with 16 years of service.
According to the statement of claim, he applied for an exemption under the Charter, but was denied.
“I asked that the CAF respect the principles outlined in Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees an individual’s right to life, liberty, and security, and upholds the principle of informed consent, an essential part of medical ethics,” he told the National Post.
“I was denied my request as the directive purposefully excludes the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as justification for accommodation.”
Although he’s since found a new career outside of the military, he said he misses his previous work — but said he couldn’t rationalize what was being demanded of him.
“I know I made a choice that many Canadians do not agree with, but I made my assessment from a risk/benefit perspective,” he said.
“I felt that the risks exceeded the benefits based on my personal circumstances and what the data and scientific literature showed.”
He said he doesn’t regret his choice, but said he wishes he and other hesitant Canadians didn’t have to go through what they did.
Christensen said she is proud of the plaintiffs in her case, describing them as the “tip of the spear” in making both the Armed Forces and Canadian government accountable for the “past three years of tyranny” in Canada’s military command.
“The Military External Grievance Review Committee has already ruled on 4 cases that Eyre made several legal errors, including breaching Charter rights. Under the National Defence Act, he cannot issue an order which violates the Charter.
“That makes his directives unlawful.”