A Steinbach woman has filed a proposed class-action lawsuit over Manitoba’s COVID-19 public health restrictions, arguing the orders that had people reprimanded by employers for refusing to be vaccinated or disclose their vaccine status amounted to violations of the government’s duty.
The lawsuit against the provincial government — filed Sept. 18 in the Court of King’s Bench by Winnipeg construction and commercial law firm Holloway Thliveris LLP on behalf of Cindy Friesen — argues the restrictions resulted in the province breaching its fiduciary duty to the plaintiffs, was negligent and potentially violated their rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Stephan Thliveris, lawyer for the claimant, said Friesen, who’s in her mid-50s, worked as a bookkeeper for the Hanover School Division pre-pandemic. She and others in the proposed class action are seeking unspecified damages and costs.
Friesen was put on leave without pay for not disclosing her vaccination status and was ultimately terminated, Thliveris said. At the time, provincial public health orders dictated certain businesses and other locations required proven vaccinations for COVID-19 for entry.
“In essence, the action is against the province of Manitoba for putting in place mandates related to COVID protocols that basically unilaterally modified the contractual relationship between provincial entities and their employees,” Thliveris said Friday.
“Whether it was the province of Manitoba itself, (a) restaurant, a bank or, in Cindy’s instance, the school division, these employers had to enforce these mandates, which was, of course, not part of the contractual relationship these individuals had with their employers to begin with.”
The suit argues the government, by imposing the restrictions and prosecuting businesses that did not comply, caused Friesen and others to be placed on leave without pay or terminated if they failed to be vaccinated, wouldn’t disclose their vaccine status or submit to regular testing, as the employers were trying to avoid prosecution or penalization from the government.
The legal filings argue those actions amount to a breach of fiduciary duty, as well as negligence.
The law firm also filed a notice of constitutional question in the Court of King’s Bench, which is an application to have the court question whether a law — in this case, public health orders requiring vaccination — was constitutional.
“We are fairly confident (in the suit’s success). It’s whether or not the charter is going to apply… there are legitimate violations of the charter here,” Thliveris said.
There are currently hundreds of potential members of the proposed class action, but he suspects “thousands” could sign on.
The recently filed lawsuit would need to be certified by a judge in order to proceed as a class action.
Thliveris said he expects the government to be served notice of the lawsuit Tuesday — the date of the provincial election.
No statement of defence had yet been filed.
Erik Pindera reports for the city desk, with a particular focus on crime and justice.