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Letter to the editor: Reader shocked at 'ineptitude' of West Nipissing council's vote on vaccinations

'I, along with many other educated, qualified, and community-focused individuals will be barred from seeking to represent the residents of West Nipissing in the next election. One could argue that the council is engaging in the grossly undemocratic practice of suppressing dissenting opponents'
20181119 west nipissing city hall winter 1
West Nipissing Town Hall

Editor's note: Mr. Venne writes in response to the issue West Nipissing council unites to pass vaccination policy.

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To the members of the West Nipissing Council,

I am writing to you to express my incredible disappointment in your unjustified passing of the motion to adopt a vaccine mandate for staff. 

As a supporter of the vaccine itself, and as someone who has recommended it to most of the people I know, I cannot see any justifiable reason to implement such a short-sided, divisive, and logistically-insurmountable policy. I am shocked at the level of ineptitude that my representatives showed that night. 

After four repeated canceled meetings (due to your personal and childish disputes) where Mr. Lewington had prepared and scheduled time in his busy schedule to speak to you, you insulted and ridiculed his fact-based arguments. In doing so, you also spread dangerous misinformation and hatred which will only further divide your city. 

At no point in his presentation, did Mr. Lewington ever suggest that we should not be encouraging the vaccine. At no point did Mr. Lewington argue that anyone should be denied the opportunity to get the vaccine or booster. 

Not only are the daily cases proving that the currently available vaccines don’t stop the spread of Omicron specifically, but the experts also agree.  Dr. Peter Juni (the Director of Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table) stated on December 17 that: “the chance of someone who is six months out from their second dose getting infected could be as high as somebody who was never vaccinated.” Just last week, the CEO of Pfizer addressed the media and confirmed that the current formulations of vaccines offer very limited protection (if any) against Omicron after two doses. A recent preprint study out of Ontario has found that even three doses of currently available vaccines are only 37% effective against Omicron.

Most experts concur that the vaccine doesn’t stop the spread, so your false assumptions that this policy is needed to “protect staff” was incorrect and misguided. 

As a council you could have attempted to support this policy of mandatory vaccinations with the assumption that staff would be filling our local hospitals. Although this argument was not even made during deliberations, it would have been a false one as well. I believe even this argument would have been a weak justification for such an overreaching policy.

We currently only have 3 COVID-related hospitalizations in the NBPS district. As the health unit has not confirmed the vaccination status of these, we do not know if the estimated 20,000 remaining unvaccinated people in our region are even occupying a single hospital bed. 

Again, I must reiterate, nothing in Mr. Lewingtons presentation or in my arguments today leads us to the belief that vaccines should not be recommended to the general population. The debate last night was not about recommendations but was about the legality, feasibility and justification for forcing this recommendation on all your staff at the risk of losing their livelihoods. 

The argument to terminate even a single employee over this policy is incomprehensible at this point.

Not only is there no evidence that this policy could lead to any reduction in spread, but you are putting crucial municipal services at risk unnecessarily. Repeatedly during the meeting, councilors acknowledged that this policy could have an impact on city services. Regardless, you decided to pass this motion 8-0. 

Logistically, in order for such a policy to be implemented, all staff and council members need to immediately disclose their personal health history to the city’s HR department. How else will the city know which individual is due for a third or 4th shot? Any staff member or councillor who is considered immunocompromised (recovered cancer survivor, transplant survivor etc) is recommended to have a 4th shot right now. Should any staff in this group who chooses against a 4th shot be fired next month? Please consider this (among many) logistical nightmares that will arise. 

This council seems to signal that they care about legal liability issues arising regarding a recent agenda item, however you completely disregarded the massive liability present in last night's decision. Many legal experts have stated that we will see an abundance of legal claims for wrongful dismissals in the future because of a lack of accommodation for people who simply made a different health choice.

A month ago, you could have been forgiven for adopting such a policy based on the idea that it would limit the spread of the virus in the workplace. But the argument does not hold any water today and that is why our municipality will be in a uniquely dangerous situation when it comes to legal liability for wrongful dismissals. You passed this motion with the facts and data of the last 30 days in front of your eyes and on camera. As this is no longer a health and safety issue, you are treading into dangerous territory. 

I am among the many educated individuals who made the choice to remain unvaccinated.

With the emerging data, I still do not see any conclusive reason to opt into the currently available two doses being offered (especially with the advent of Omicron) and especially since I have natural immunity. I, along with many other educated, qualified, and community-focused individuals will be barred from seeking to represent the residents of West Nipissing in the next election. One could argue that the council is engaging in the grossly undemocratic practice of suppressing dissenting opponents.

I will end this letter by reminding you and all residents of West Nipissing, that council absolutely had a choice in the motion. There is no provincial or federal law or recommendation that advises municipalities to implement vaccine policies for low-risk staff. Council owns this policy entirely. Council could have chosen to strongly recommend vaccines without risking essential city services with an overreaching mandate. Callandar, one of our neighboring municipalities, opted for this exact course just last week and voted against passing such a logistically difficult policy. West Nipissing council had a choice and they made it. 

See: Callander refuses vaccine policy, ‘wait until the government mandates it’

Any consequence of this policy is on council.

West Nipissing residents know who to look to if we see a single municipal service be affected by this senseless and unnecessary policy. West Nipissing residents know who to look to when perfectly qualified and respected members of our community cannot run in the next municipal elections to finally see much-needed change in this region. West Nipissing citizens know exactly who to look to when we realize this policy was a logistical nightmare destined to fail from the beginning. West Nipissing citizens will know who to look to when this city faces significant legal challenges and legal fees in the coming years because of this short-sided and legally questionable policy. 

But most importantly, current and future West Nipissing citizens will look back on this council for firmly standing on the wrong side of history. We will always remember that this dysfunctional council that could not agree on almost anything for three years, could only find a consensus on three issues: 

  1. Keeping their community and businesses unnecessarily in lockdown for an extra month when the rest of the province opened up. This with growing evidence that lockdowns have only caused more harm than benefits. 

  2. Keeping toboggan hills, ice rinks and snowmobile trails uniquely closed in this region when all experts agreed outdoor activities were safe and healthy. 

  3. Implementing an ineffective, fraught policy that puts vital city services at risk, creating long-term legal liability for the city,  and further dividing the population like never before. 

Réjean Venne 

West Nipissing

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