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Legal battles brewing between parents divided on COVID-19 vaccination

Legal battles brewing between parents divided on COVID-19 vaccination
Legal battles brewing between parents divided on COVID-19 vaccination

اخبارالعرب 24-كندا:السبت 25 سبتمبر 2021 11:01 صباحاً COVID-19 vaccination has caused a lot of tension in some communities, and for some Manitoba parents divided on the issue, it's also resulting in legal bills. 

Earlier this week, a court case in Saskatchewan involving divorced parents who couldn't agree on the vaccine issue made national headlines, with the judge ultimately siding with the parent who wanted their 13-year-old daughter to get the shot. 

In a similar case in Quebec, a Superior Court judge ruled that a mother was allowed to have her 12-year-old son vaccinated against COVID-19 despite the father's opposition.

Lawyers in Winnipeg say they're dealing with the same conflicts here, too. 

Lillian Mackenzie, who practises family law in Winnipeg at Visionary Law Corporation, said the number of clients coming to her firm over these conflicts has exploded recently. 

"The vaccines have become a very polarizing issue for families, and in all sorts of different ways," she said. 

In some cases, the conflict centres around children being vaccinated, while in other cases, the issue is one parent being vaccinated while the other isn't, Mackenzie said. 

In the latter situation, that could escalate to withholding access to visitation, she said. 

Greg Evans, principal lawyer at Evans Family Law Corporation, says these are difficult situations to mediate because there is virtually no way to come to a compromise. 

"There's not really a middle ground here — either the child is vaccinated or the child's not vaccinated, right?" he said. 

So far, he says his firm has been dealing with at least one such case that is now before the courts. 

Mackenzie says parents basically have two options if they can't come to an agreement: go to court, or get their kids vaccinated without their ex-partner's consent. 

"I think most people that I've come across so far have decided to take matters into their own hands and suffer the consequences," she said.

"Then, of course, it's the other parent that would have to take them to court to accuse them of making unilateral medical decisions." 

Pro-vaccine parents likely to win in court: lawyers

If these issues do end in court, lawyers CBC News spoke with all said they think judges will likely side with the parent who wants their children vaccinated, or with the parent who is vaccinated.

That's because vaccines have the support of provincial and federal governments and scientific research to back them up, said Russell Alexander, a family lawyer with Collaborative Family Lawyers based in Toronto. 

"The court's not in a position to question the science behind the decision. The government has the best scientists and the best researchers working for them," he said. 

"So if the issue that goes before the court is if the vaccination is in the best interest of the child, that's always the overriding principle. Right now, the court's view is that it is in the best interest of the child."

LISTEN | Lawyer Russell Alexander on vaccines and children:

Information Radio - MB9:01As the province rolls out vaccine clinics in schools this week, some Manitobans wonder what to do if their partner doesn't want their kids to get vaccinated

Some listeners have reached out to us asking what to do if their partner doesn't want their kids to get vaccinated and threatens legal action if they do. Host Marcy Markusa spoke with Russell Alexander, a Toronto-based family lawyer specializing in divorce, to get some advice about the rights kids and parents have to make decisions about their health. 9:01

Evans says he thinks judges in Manitoba would follow that principle. 

"The test isn't what one parent wants, it's what the court sees as in the best interest of the child."

Alexander also said if parents want to challenge that view, they would have to bring something from a doctor to the court showing the vaccine is not in the child's best interest.

"This isn't just some report on the internet — you're going to need some specific medical evidence."

Children can decide themselves, too

Children also have a say, however. In Manitoba, those age 16 and up can make medical decisions for themselves without the consent of a legal guardian. 

But in some cases, younger children can also make that decision for themselves under what's called the mature minor doctrine. 

Under that legislation, health-care professionals can assess a child's capacity to make a decision, and in the case of vaccines, give them a shot even if their parent does not consent to it, explained Joss Reimer, the medical lead of Manitoba's vaccine task force. 

Reimer said she understands this is a tough issue and the province wants parents to be involved in vaccination decisions. Health-care workers are not trying to get around parental consent by using the mature minor policy, she said.

"But this is something that's been in legislation for a long time," Reimer said.

The legislation sometimes has to be used, "because it's really critical that we provide services to young people even when their parents aren't available, and very occasionally, even when their parents don't agree," she said. 

"If the child understands the situation, we need to make decisions in their best interests if they are consenting to it."

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