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Can I be held legally liable for not getting my child vaccinated?

The debate whether parents should be forced to have their children vaccinated rages on, with people divided on the issue.

What is the law about having children vaccinated?

In terms of healthcare law, it’s the provinces and territories that create legislation in regards to healthcare and treatments and what is mandatory and what is not.

As of 2016, there are two provinces in Canada who have mandatory vaccination for schoolchildren, they are: Ontario and New Brunswick . The law in Ontario and New Brunswick requires for these children to be vaccinated against diseases like: diphtheria, tetanus, polio, pertussis (whooping cough), measles, rubella, mumps, varicella (chicken pox) and meningococcal disease.

Manitoba used to require that schoolchildren be vaccinated against measles but changed its mind a few years ago and now says immunizations are voluntary. However, if a measles case arises in a school, a child who has not been immunized may be excluded from school for up to three weeks post-exposure.

Ontario has also recently proposed new legislation that would force parents who refuse to have their children vaccinated go through an education session about vaccines. Furthermore, the new law would also mandate that health care providers report all vaccinations they give to children, whereas previously it was the parent who had to report the vaccinations to the government.

Even though in those three provinces require that children be vaccinated before they can attend school, exceptions exist: if a child was not vaccinated due to medical, religious or ideological reasons.

To qualify for the exemption, parents must obtain a statement of medical exemption, if they are not getting their child vaccinated due to medical reasons. Parents must notarize and sign an affidavit with a statement of their beliefs if they refuse to have their child vaccinated for religious or ideological reasons.

Though other provinces may not have express legislation requiring the vaccination of a child, there may be requirements in the health acts to exclude children from school if the child is not vaccinated.

You should check the applicable legislation of your province or territory for rules about getting children vaccinated.

Can I be held legally liable if I don’t get my child vaccinated?

It is a possibility parents could be held liable if the child gets seriously ill or passes away due to the failure to have the child vaccinated, if the child contracts an illness that a vaccine would have prevented.

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in B. (R.) v. Children's Aid Society of Metropolitan Toronto that parents cannot withhold life-saving medical treatments from their children, regardless of what their beliefs may be.

Recently, there was also a case in which two Alberta parents were convicted of failing to provide the necessaries of life to their son. Their son died of meningitis that was left untreated; because the parents first thought he had the flu, treated him with naturopathic medicines and avoided taking him to the hospital for weeks. Their son died after they were forced to call 911.

Please note that the laws around vaccinations frequently change. If you want to find out what the most current laws around vaccinations are for children in your province or territory you should consult your physician or the most up-to-date vaccination legislation for your province or territory.

Read more:

A Parent's Guide to Vaccination Government of Canada

Measles outbreak: The loopholes in Canada's Vaccination Laws CBC News