Vaccination of Children in Family Law Cases
Author: Vancouver Family Lawyer Colin Ferguson
Vaccination of children is a hot topic in British Columbia and around the world and this issue comes up in family law proceedings. In Canada, it is not mandatory for parents to have their children vaccinated. This is due to the protections of the Canadian Constitution. However, provinces are able to enact legislation to require proof of immunization for school registrations. There are currently only two provinces that have passed legislation that mandates children be vaccinated in order to attend school, Ontario and New Brunswick. The Ontario and New Brunswick legislation have both been in place since 1982, and 37 years later, there is still no similar legislation in place in British Columbia.
After a recent measles outbreak in British Columbia, there has been an increase in pressure from the healthcare profession, such as from the British Columbia Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, the B.C. Health Minister, Adrian Dix, as well as an online petition with more than 43,000 signatures for immunizations to be mandatory for school registration. There is currently a model being considered which aims to be in place for the start of the school year in September 2019.
While vaccinations are not mandatory in British Columbia, parents who refuse to have their children vaccinated may be reported to the Ministry of Children and Family Development ( “MCFD”). Under the Child, Family, and Community Service Act (the “CFCSA”), parents and guardians of children have the requirement to ensure that a child’s basic medical needs are met. These needs generally include regular visits to the dentist, and to a doctor in the event of illness. The recommendations of the doctor’s must be followed, including ensuring that prescription medication is taken accordingly. Medical doctors strongly recommend that children receive their vaccinations in accordance with the established immunization schedule which is available through HealthLinkBC and other health care professionals.
Every person in British Columbia has a legal obligation under section 14 of the CFCSA to promptly report to the MCFD if they genuinely believe that a child has been or is likely to be abused or neglected and needs protection. This obligation extends to medical and legal professionals, and in exceptional circumstances, it may be appropriate for these professionals to contact the MCFD. As public concern for the outbreak of measles in British Columbia climbs, it is entirely possible that parents who do not vaccinate their children will be reported to the MCFD by doctors.
After separation and divorce, parents sometimes get into disputes over the issue of vaccinating their children. Family lawyers may need to be engaged to deal with this issue in court. There is a high degree of risk in family law proceedings for any parent who refuses to vaccinate their children. Judges must assess what is in the best interests of a child when faced with two parents in a family law dispute who cannot agree on a medical decision for their child. The vaccination of children is strongly supported by medical research and decades of evidence and therefore the courts will support the decision of the parent who demands that a child be vaccinated. The parent against vaccinating their child may lose the right to make medical decisions for the child and may even face an investigation from MCFD and lose parenting time. We have seen these results before in family law cases.
In 2001, the Measles Initiative was launched with a commitment to reducing measles deaths worldwide. This Initiative is a partnership between the United Nations Foundation, the American Red Cross, the World Health Organization, UNICEF and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2018, the Measles & Rubella Initiative reported that deaths around the world due to measles fell by 84% between 2000 and 2016, due to the increase in vaccinations. It was further reported that the measles vaccinations saved an estimated 20.4 million lives during these years.
If you are separated or divorced and dealing with the issue of vaccination in a family law case, or you are dealing with MCFD, the British Columbia family lawyers at Crossroads law can help. Please give us a call to set up a consultation in person or over the phone.