A group of former City of Quesnel employees who lost their jobs for refusing to get vaccinated against COVID-19 are fighting back against the municipality's attempt to have their lawsuit dismissed.
The city contends in a Sept. 8 notice of application that a labour arbitrator, not the B.C. Supreme Court, is the proper venue to deal with their claims.
It also notes that the union representing the employees has filed a grievance on their behalf, and that the matter is scheduled to go before an arbitrator at the end of this month.
But in a response filed Oct. 3, Stephen Whitehead, the lawyer representing the former employees argues the arbitrator lacks "exclusive jurisdiction" to take on the matter because the "essential character" of the dispute falls outside the ambit of the collective agreement.
While the municipality imposed the mandate, it did so in answer to policy invoked by the provincial government, which is also named as a defendant. It should not be up to labour arbitrators "to qualify whether implementation of public health and economic policy was justified or not," Whitehead says.
"This was never the purpose of the exclusive jurisdiction model. Allowing this to occur means that employers can then implement highly controversial polices hide behind those decisions by allowing a less capable quasi-judicial body like an arbitrator to make a decision."
Whitehead also says that the "vast majority" of labour arbitrators have ruled against employees elsewhere in Canada who have filed claims seeking damages over vaccine mandates and that his clients "strongly believe a labour arbitrator will be susceptible to bias."
In June, a notice of claim was filed in B.C. Supreme Court on behalf of the nine employees. They are seeking damages and several declarations including one that the municipality "created an unsafe work environment by mandating experimental products linked to serious adverse events, including myocarditis, heart attacks, and death, potentially jeopardizing the lives of its employees."
City manager Byron Johnson was removed as a defendant in an amended notice of claim, filed in September.
The amended claim also goes on to say that the provincial government pressured B.C. businesses into implementing the mandate and that the City of Quesnel "along with countless other businesses, took this erroneous direction from the Province, and implemented the illegal, unconstitutional and damaging Mandate on its employees."
A hearing on the municipality's notice of application and the employees' response is scheduled for Monday at the Prince George courthouse.