The Alberta Legislature building in Edmonton, Canada is reflected in a pool on June 23, 2015 (AFP / Geoff Robins)

Alberta’s health laws used to make misleading claims about mandatory vaccination during Covid-19 pandemic

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Posts shared more than 10,000 times in Canada have claimed that recent changes to Alberta's health statutes will bring in forced medical isolation and vaccination. This is misleading; giving power to medical officers to prevent the spread of communicable diseases is not new, according to a legal expert, and Alberta’s premier, health minister and chief medical officer do not support mandatory vaccination.

“The future of Canada...?” asks a September 16, 2020 version of the post. 

Screenshot of a Facebook post, taken on October 1, 2020

All the versions of the posts point to Alberta’s Health Statutes Amendments Act, also known as Bill 30, to claim it brought in mandatory medical isolation and vaccinations when it came into force in July 2020.

AFP Fact Check breaks down the claims:

New powers in response to Covid-19

“Alberta is the first” says the one post, while another asks, “Why didn’t they do this with ebola or swine flu?”

Lorian Hardcastle, an associate professor at the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Law, told AFP by email, “These are not new powers, nor are they unique to Alberta.” 

She added, “Although there is interprovincial variation in public health laws, all laws provide for examinations and detentions in response to public health threats. And although these laws have been amended in response to Covid, they have existed for many years.” 

This is consistent with the 1984 version of the Public Health Act and the current one.

Screenshots, taken on October 1, 2020 of the 1984 version of the Public Health Act (left) and the current one (right)

Forced isolation 

“If you have a runny nose from allergies, the government can drag you to an isolation facility and force you to take vaccines or enter your place of work and shut it down if you have allergies” says this version of the post. 

Hardcastle, who specializes in health law, explained: “The legislation allows for detention if a medical officer knows or has reason to believe that a person is ‘suffering from a communicable disease.’ Not only are allergies not a communicable disease, but the legislation actually defines and lists communicable diseases, and allergies are not included on that list.”

Steve Buick, Press Secretary to Alberta’s Health Minister Tyler Shandro similarly confirmed in an email, “The post about runny noses from allergies is also incorrect. Our public health guidance on self-isolation for people with respiratory symptoms refers to new symptoms not related to an existing health condition.”

Hardcastle added that “all government laws and actions are subject to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Arbitrarily detaining people for medical treatment or detaining them when other less intrusive alternatives were available (i.e. isolating at home) would all be unconstitutional.”

Mandatory vaccination 

The province of Alberta recommends vaccinations saying: “Immunization is one of the most important public health measures used to protect the health of Albertans. It is one of the most successful and cost-effective public health interventions.”

Alberta’s Public Health Act could allow for mandatory immunization, but Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health told the Alberta Legislative Assembly’s Public Health Act Review Select Committee, in August 2020, “To my knowledge Alberta has never mandated any population province-wide vaccine in its history.”

Jason Kenney, Alberta’s Premier from the United Conservative Party, agreed. He said in this Facebook live town hall that “since 1910, the Public Health Act and previous legislation have had the ability to require mandatory inoculation. As far we know, it has never been used and the Government has no intention of making that mandatory.” 

Both Hinshaw and the province’s health minister have said they would support removing that power from the statute.

“I don’t see an example where that would be used. I think if we have a piece of legislation that we’re unlikely to use, I’m not sure it provides much benefit. So I would be comfortable with that particular piece of the legislation being removed,” Hinshaw said.

Shandro’s press secretary told AFP that the minister “is on record as supporting the current proposal to remove the provision in the Public Health Act giving the government the power to impose mandatory vaccination.”

AFP Fact Check has debunked more than 630 examples of false or misleading information about the novel coronavirus. You can find the complete list of our fact checks on the topic in English here.