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Former Newfoundland premier sues feds over vaccine mandate for travel

Brian Peckford was not surprised last Saturday to look out across the lawn of B.C.’s provincial legislature and see more than 5,000 faces enthusiastically calling for a change in government policy when it comes to COVID-19 vaccinations.
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Brian Peckford is the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit that claims the federal government’s COVID-19 vaccine requirement for air travel is unconstitutional and infringes on all Canadians’ charter rights. Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms

Brian Peckford was not surprised last Saturday to look out across the lawn of B.C.’s provincial legislature and see more than 5,000 faces enthusiastically calling for a change in government policy when it comes to COVID-19 vaccinations.

The former premier of Newfoundland, who has called Vancouver Island his home for decades, has seen the movement building for months as people have become fed up with vaccine mandates and economic restrictions due to the pandemic.

Peckford said the rally was the result of frustration and good organization, and it will make a difference.

“All civil disobedience makes a difference. You do influence the powers that be — they do take notice,” he said in a phone interview from his home in Parksville. “Having been in government myself for 17 years, I’m familiar with that. ”

Peckford is hoping to make a difference of his own in the courts. He has attached his political clout and position as one of those who helped draft Canada’s Constitution and Charter of Rights and Freedoms to a lawsuit against the federal government.

The suit, filed last week, claims the federal government’s COVID-19 vaccine requirement for air travel is unconstitutional and infringes on all Canadians’ charter rights.

“I’m concerned as a Canadian citizen, I’m concerned as a person who was involved in crafting the charter,” said Peckford, who suggested the federal government’s use of Section One of the Constitution — which allows the government to limit charter rights in some cases — is not justified by the pandemic.

“It was never meant to be used in this kind of circumstance,” he said. “It was meant for very serious circumstances, like if the state was in peril, war or insurrection or other things that threatened the state as a country. Not this kind of circumstance where 99 per cent of people recover from a virus. That’s not a threat to the state.”

The suit, filed by the Alberta-based Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, a group that has been lobbying against pandemic restrictions, includes five other Canadians — a teacher from Surrey, a courier living in the United Kingdom, a senior manager in the Northwest Territories, a homemaker from Gatineau, Que and a student from Langley.

Peckford said it is meant to represent the average Canadian.

The Justice Centre claims six million unvaccinated Canadians are unable to travel within Canada and are prevented from flying out of Canada, while the individuals involved in the lawsuit are rendered unable to travel to help sick loved ones, get to work, visit family and friends, take international vacations, and live ordinary lives.

The legal challenge claims the travel vaccination mandate violates charter rights of mobility, life, liberty and security of the person, privacy, and discrimination. The lawsuit also challenges whether the minister of Transportation has the jurisdiction to use aviation safety powers to enforce public health measures.

Justice Centre lead counsel Keith Wilson said despite the fact the vaccine does not stop people from getting or spreading the virus, the federal government is “arbitrarily restricting Canadians’ fundamental rights and freedoms.”

“It is profoundly disturbing that a marginalized group in Canada — the unvaccinated — are essentially prohibited from leaving the country,” he said.

The suit says that Peckford, who has not been vaccinated, relies on air travel to visit family in eastern Canada and has used air travel to do various speaking engagements across the country since the pandemic began. It suggests travelling by other means is impractical, as he lives on the Island.

Peckford, 79, said he chose not to be vaccinated after analyzing the numbers. He said the number of hospitalizations was low and he had concerns over the potential side-effects of the vaccines. Health officials have said serious adverse effects from vaccines are rare.

“We all have our arguments with the travel ban and we’re all familiar that our rights are being trampled on,” Peckford said of the six individuals named in the lawsuit. “We have to get on with our lives. And from my perspective, I take this very personally because I was involved in [crafting the charter].”

aduffy@timescolonist.com