MONTREAL -- While the mass vaccination campaign against COVID-19 has started in Quebec, some citizens are reluctant to be inoculated and are wondering about their rights and obligations.

Do you have to be vaccinated or not? Could that change?

Two lawyers describe the guidelines for vaccination in the province.

Q: Do I have to be vaccinated?

A: No. No vaccine is mandatory in Quebec. It is a personal choice, and one must consent to it, as with other health-care options.

Q: Could the government make COVID-19 vaccination mandatory?

A: Yes. It has this power, in exceptional cases, such as that of a pandemic, which seriously threatens the health of the population, said lawyer Dominique Boutin of Éducaloi.

If a state of health emergency is declared (this is already the case in Quebec), Quebec Public Health Act gives broad powers to the government, including the power to impose vaccination on the entire population, or on part of the population, when threatened by a contagious disease.

"But currently, this is not the approach of the government," said Boutin.

However, even if a compulsory vaccination is decreed by the government, it remains possible for a citizen to challenge this measure in court.

Q: If compulsory vaccination is imposed and I still refuse the vaccine, are there any consequences?

A: Sanctions are possible, such as fines. A court can also order the person to be vaccinated, and if a judge has serious reasons to believe that this person will not submit to such an order, he can impose that he be taken directly to a specific place to be vaccinated, said Boutin.

Q: Can the government restrict certain activities or access to places only to people who have been vaccinated?

A: Yes, it has that power in the Public Health Act. It can choose to exercise it. The main purpose of this is to protect those who are not immune to the virus.

Q: If vaccination is not mandatory, can an employer still force their employees to receive the vaccine?

A: It is a possibility, explained lawyer Marianne Plamondon from Langlois Avocats in Montreal, but the only way for an employer to be able to impose inoculation is to demonstrate that the vaccine is a "justified occupational requirement." This test, based on the Charter of human rights and freedoms, already exists in labour law.

This would not be a possibility for all companies, said the labour law specialist. The employers who would be more likely to be able to legally impose vaccination are those who have employees on the front line, exposed to COVID-19, such as health-care workers in the red zone in a CHSLD, "where the risk of catching the disease COVID-19 is very high" and where there has been absenteeism due to illness and death, she explained.

"It is still a heavy burden to meet," she added stressing that the employer must mount solid proof, with supporting statistics.

Q: Could an employee still refuse the vaccine, in such a work environment?

A: Yes, the employer has a duty to accommodate at all times, and they could move this employee to another area, which is not on the front line of COVID-19. But if there are no other options, the employer could possibly proceed with an administrative dismissal of this employee, said Plamondon.

However, she added that a worker could always challenge his employer's mandatory vaccination policy before the Human Rights Tribunal.

-- this report by The Canadian Press was first published March 6, 2021.