West Nipissing has adopted a municipal vaccination policy requiring all staff, contractors, volunteers, and council members to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19.
For a two-dose vaccine, the employees must receive the first dose by February 2, 2022, and the second dose by March 2nd, 2022.
For single dose vaccines—for example the vaccine by Johnson and Johnson—that dose must be taken by February 2nd as well.
“Any related boosters must be completed within one month of the earliest eligibility date,” the policy outlines.
Employees who do not comply with the policy “may be subject to discipline, up to and including dismissal.”
Passing the policy has been a long time coming. It was first introduced on the November 2nd agenda, but between cancelled meetings and meetings adjourned early due to lack of quorum, the policy fell through the cracks.
But it revived for the January 18th meeting, and all of council was in attendance—perhaps inspired by a recent visit from representatives from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, who urged council to meet regularly once again, or risk being dissolved by Minister Steve Clark.
The municipality “requires proof of vaccination from all workers,” the policy states, and that proof “means documentation such as a verifying receipt for a vaccination series approved by Health Canada.”
Accommodations will be made for those who prefer to not receive a vaccination “on one or more of the protected grounds in the Human Rights Code, up to the point of undue hardship.”
Medical and religious exemptions will be considered, and “to discuss possible exemptions and related accommodation under this policy,” municipal workers encouraged to speak with “their immediate supervisor of human resources.”
West Nipissing resident, and member of the Northern Ontario Libertarian Caucus, Dave Lewington, who has patiently waited through many cancelled and postponed meetings to present to council on the policy, was given the opportunity last night.
Lewington was concerned “that there were many issues not considered or discussed” when council brought the vaccination policy out in early November.
One of his main concerns was that staff may be lost and the policy could affect “the work of the municipality.”
For example, “in a small community like ours, losing even one or two snow plow operators will be a huge issue,” Lewington mentioned to council.
He also warned the “municipality will have some legal exposure if this policy is adopted” for “penalizing unvaccinated people.”
Lewington also expressed concern about the need for boosters outlined in the policy, noting keeping track and enforcing this aspect of the policy could become “a logistical nightmare.”
With all councillors requiring vaccination, Lewington noted that this could put up a “barrier to any potential challenges to council positions,” in that those who are unvaccinated will be prohibited from taking a council seat if elected.
Overall, Lewington urged council to “defeat this discriminatory vaccination policy” and “show your fellow citizens that you have the capacity for love and optimism that will allow each and every citizen to make the best choice for their own individual situation.”
After speaking for about 10 minutes, councillor Leo Malette told Lewington “that I certainly don’t agree with you” on defeating the policy.
“I respect your views,” he added, “but I will be voting for the policy for vaccination.”
“We are following the advice of the medical experts and our health unit,” explained Councillor Denis Senecal, “and that’s their recommendation.”
“It’s for the best for all the people,” Senecal said. “Some may be strong enough to withstand it” he said of Covid-19, “but if I don’t have my vaccine and I interact with the public, and I give them Covid, I don’t think that’s fair to them either.”
“We are bound by the Ministry of Labour to take every precaution necessary to protect the health and safety of our workers,” Senecal said.
“And that’s our main goal here, to protect our workers and to protect the public.”
“David makes a couple of good points,” councillor Chris Fisher said of Lewington’s presentation. “And it is a moving target, and I agree that one day we’ll have to look at staffing, and the by-law over time as the sands shift.”
The remaining councillors all agreed to support and pass the policy, which came into effect yesterday evening.
David Briggs is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of BayToday, a publication of Village Media. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.