Mother sues school division for $200K for requiring face masks

By | September 24, 2020

WINNIPEG — A woman tried taking a Manitoba school division to court for more than $200,000 in damages for requiring her children to wear masks in school, a move she said was a breach of her children’s rights, and was seeking a court injunction to allow her kids to go to school with no masks.

Krista McKenzie, a practicing lawyer in Ontario who represented her family in court, filed a statement of claim in Manitoba on Sept. 16 against the Division scolaire franco-manitobaine (DSFM), a French division in the province.

In the claim, McKenzie said she was seeking $210,000 collectively in damages for various breaches of rights and privacy, as well as $1,000 for every day her children missed school. She also requested a court injunction preventing the division from requiring her children to wear masks in school.

On Thursday afternoon in Manitoba’s Court of Queen’s Bench, Justice Gerald Chartier dismissed the claim, saying that McKenzie failed to persuade the court that irreparable harm would be caused if the injunction was not granted.

In a written endorsement, Chartier wrote that McKenzie had written to the principal of her children’s school, which is the division, claiming an exemption for her children having to wear a mask for reasons including mental, dental, medical and personal choice.

Chartier wrote that after a discussion with the principal, McKenzie provided doctors notes to the division which said “for medical reasons, this patient will not be able to tolerate continuously wearing a mask.”

In the claim, McKenzie alleges the division “responded by questioning the credentials of the doctor being that he was a physician in Ontario, and the contents of the note.”

Previous Manitoba guidelines required facemasks for students in Grades 4 to 12, as well as in any Grades 3/4 split classrooms where physical distancing cannot be maintained, adding doctor’s notes are not required for exemptions.

Those guidelines were updated by the province on Sept. 18, while the case was in trial, to say school divisions may request a doctor’s note for exemptions to facemasks.

The new guidelines say exemptions can only be made based on nine exceptions, which include exemptions for people with a medical condition unrelated to COVID-19, people with deformities and people with PTSD who are triggered by a face covering.

In the claim, McKenzie said the division disregarded the province’s earlier policy by requiring a doctor’s note, and breached the rights of her children.

But in his endorsement, Chartier said her arguments “lacked merit” and said he was not satisfied McKenzie “established irreparable harm should this injunction not be granted.”

“I am satisfied that the COVID-19 policies in relation to masks in schools are required for safe operation of the schools,” Chartier said in a written endorsement. “And while the policy acknowledges that the knowledge of the wearing of non-medical masks is evolving, the wearing of masks can play a role in reducing transmission of COVID-19.”

MOTHER ASKS FOR SEALING ORDER ON CASE

McKenzie also submitted a motion for a sealing order, which would make all the documents in the case closed to the public and media, saying there is “identifying and confidential” information throughout the documents.

She told the court since the media began reporting on the case she has received “hateful emails.”

Chartier would not grant a sealing order saying it is a matter of public interest.

“You shouldn’t be surprised that an issue like this is of interest to the public,” Chartier said.

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