New Brunswick legislators defeat controversial mandatory vaccination bill

FREDERICTON — New Brunswick legislators have voted down a controversial bill that would have made vaccinations mandatory for children in the province's schools and daycares.

The minority Progressive Conservative government's Act Respecting Proof of Immunization was defeated Thursday in a vote of 22 to 20, with four abstentions.

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Bill 11 would have required children in public schools and licensed daycare facilities to provide proof of immunization unless they had an exemption signed by a medical professional. Non-medical exemptions are currently accepted.

Education Minister Dominic Cardy said he was "deeply disappointed" by the results of the free vote that saw some members of his own party vote against the bill and some Liberal opposition members support it.

Cardy had harsh words for colleagues who abstained or voted nay, saying these members had given in to pressure from anti-vaccination lobbyists pushing "medieval conspiracy theories."

He said members had a choice to stand up to misinformation or to vote with science to protect their constituents' best interests, and he said many didn't stand up against "bullying, harassment and threats."

"They'll have to live with their conscience and the consequences of their actions," Cardy told reporters.

Green party Leader David Coon, whose caucus of three abstained from voting, said in a statement that the decision to suspend parental exemptions should come from the chief medical officer of health and not be made for political reasons.

He said very few parents currently use the non-medical exemption and there is not sufficient public health rationale to deny "the handful of children" who are not vaccinated access to education.

Cardy rejected this argument, saying the legislation was intended as a protective measure before anti-vaccination messages gain more popularity and vaccination rates fall to risky levels.

He also expressed disappointment in the Green party caucus decision to abstain from voting. He said the legislators backed down from their responsibilities in a moment of crisis.

Liberal Leader Kevin Vickers also criticized the Greens for "abdicating their responsibility" to vote on an important issue. He said Coon failed to show leadership.

"When people elect representatives, they expect them to make tough decisions and not shy away from them or hide from them," Vickers said in a statement.

"David Coon can try to spin this, but all other members of the legislative assembly knew what he was doing, and the public will likely judge him on this as well."

The proposed rules, which would have take taken effect Sept. 1, 2021, were introduced last June during a measles outbreak in southern New Brunswick.

Vocal opponents to vaccines from across Canada and the United States appeared before a provincial legislative committee last August to make a case against mandatory vaccinations. Some opponents said their travel expenses were covered by Vaccine Choice Canada, an advocacy group that is critical of vaccines.

Earlier this week, a committee of legislators voted to remove the notwithstanding clause from the bill, which Premier Blaine Higgs had said was necessary to protect the legislation from charter challenges.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 18, 2020.

- By Holly McKenzie-Sutter in St. John's, N.L.

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