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Military launches formal proceedings against more than 900 unvaccinated troops

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OTTAWA — The Department of National Defence says proceedings have been launched against more than 900 Canadian Armed Forces members for refusing to get vaccinated, though none have yet been forced to hang up their uniforms.

Chief of the defence staff Gen. Wayne Eyre ordered all military personnel be fully vaccinated by mid-October, saying the measure was intended to protect the military during the pandemic. The deadline was later extended to mid-December.

While most Armed Forces members complied with the order, with the Defence Department reporting a 98.3 per cent vaccination rate among Canadian troops, hundreds of others did not. Those soldiers are now facing the possibility of release from the military.

According to the Defence Department’s latest statistics, by the end of December, more than 830 Armed Forces members had received formal warnings, orders to attend counselling and probation for refusing to get jabbed.

Formal reviews had been launched against another 100 unvaccinated troops who continued to defy the vaccination order even after those other remedial measures had been exhausted.

The launch of such reviews is usually the first step toward forcing service members from the military, though Defence Department spokesman Daniel Le Bouthillier said the first forced releases aren’t expected until the end of the month.

Forty-four full-time members of the Armed Forces have opted to voluntarily leave the military rather than get vaccinated, Le Bouthillier added. The number of part-time reservists who have chosen to leave wasn’t immediately available.

“For those few who are unable to be vaccinated, each case will be assessed to determine whether and what accommodation is reasonable,” Le Bouthillier said in a statement.

“The accommodations will take into account the health and safety of the defence team while focusing on continuing to achieve the Canadian Armed Forces mission.”

While Eyre has made getting the COVID-19 vaccine a requirement for continuing to serve in uniform, the loss of any troops would further exacerbate the Canadian military’s personnel shortfall.

The federal Liberal government has authorized the Armed Forces to have 68,000 regular-force members and 29,000 reservists, but it is short several thousand on both counts as recruiting has dried up during the pandemic.

The shortfall coincides with the military having faced unprecedented demands over the past two years as it has conducted numerous missions abroad while helping provinces with the COVID-19 pandemic and a growing number of natural disasters.

Eyre in an interview in November acknowledged the Canadian Armed Forces is “a fragile organization right now because of our numbers being down, because of the (operational) tempo, because of this crisis in (sexual) misconduct.”

Several Armed Forces members tried to challenge the vaccine requirement in Federal Court last month, where they asked Justice Janet Fuhrer to intervene and stop the military from forcing them to get their shots.

But continuing a string of legal defeats for federal employees fighting vaccine requirements, Fuhrer dismissed their arguments.

“The applicants have failed to demonstrate that their interests outweigh the public interest in ensuring the readiness, health and safety of the Forces, the defence team, and the vulnerable groups they may be called on to serve,” Fuhrer wrote in her decision.

She added: “If the requested injunction were issued, material harm to the public interest would ensue, in terms of increased health risks to CAF members and the public they serve.”

Edmonton lawyer Catherine Christensen, who represented four of the military members challenging the vaccine requirement, said she was preparing to file a lawsuit on behalf of her clients.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 14, 2022.

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

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