Members of a London city committee showed support for a proof of COVID-19 vaccination policy for municipal employees, and called on city staff to draft a similar policy that would apply to councillors.
During a meeting Monday, the city’s Corporate Services Committee (CSC) backed the policy with a unanimous vote. Councillors were not voting to enact or implement the policy itself, but were voting to receive, for information, a city staff report detailing the policy.
The committee vote was 4-0, with two members, Mayor Ed Holder and Councillor Arielle Kayabaga, absent. Holder is away, while Kayabaga has taken a leave of absence from council to run in the upcoming federal election.
According to the report, the policy was developed through talks with local health officials and union leaders and applies to almost everyone employed by the city, either directly or indirectly as staff of contractors, or as consultants. It also extends to volunteers, interns, and students on placement.
Under the policy, those impacted will have to provide proof of full COVID-19 vaccination. Those not immunized will have to undergo regular testing and complete an educational session, or provide a written attestation of the medical or Ontario Human Rights Code reason for not being vaccinated.
Staff members will have to provide proof of vaccination or attestation of exemption starting Sept. 15, and testing and educational sessions will start Oct. 1, the report says.
The policy will be in place “as long as the risks and impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are present” and will be reviewed regularly and amended if required.
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The policy falls short of a being a mandate like that seen in other municipalities and sectors, such as the City of Toronto and Western University.
In Toronto, city workers and employees will be required to be fully immunized as of Oct. 30, excluding those who are “legally entitled to an accommodation.” At Western University, meanwhile, the school has removed the option of regular testing in lieu of vaccination, “except under rare circumstances.”
Under the London policy, workers can avoid getting the shot as long as they complete an education session around vaccinations and undergo regular testing — tests that will be paid for by the municipality at an estimated cost of roughly $2,000 to $3,000 per week.
“I would like to see an even stronger policy,” said Councillor Shawn Lewis.
“I would like to see us be even stronger, but I also understand civic administration needs to proceed with caution and there’s negotiations with our union partners, and so all of that has to be considered and weighed.”
Employees on leave of absence and staff at the city-owned, provincially-governed Dearness Home won’t be impacted, and there are no plans to enact a policy for members of the public who attend city hall for in-person services, City Manager Lynne Livingstone told committee members.
City councillors also won’t fall under the policy as they are not technically city employees, however a councillor-specific policy may soon be a reality. The committee voted to endorse a motion from Deputy Mayor Josh Morgan to have city staff draft a one for elected politicians. The motion will now go before a future meeting of full council.
Morgan had stated previously that it was expected any policy for councillors would come into effect under a similar timeframe as that for municipal staff.
“It’s my personal belief that from a health and safety perspective, the rules should be the same for people entering the building whether they’re an employee… or an elected official who functions like an employee for the most part,” Morgan said.
Morgan’s motion carried with a 3-1 vote, with Councillor Michael Van Holst the lone opponent. It’s not entirely clear why Van Holst voted in support of the staff-specific policy, but voted against the motion for a drafting of a councillor-specific policy.
Van Holst has previously called into question the efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines, and claimed in a letter to the committee that the “overall COVID narrative” couldn’t be defended scientifically, calling it a “profit-enhancing vaccine narrative.”
In the letter, Van Holst claimed that the need for vaccines had been “exaggerated,” and that it didn’t warrant “extreme measures” such as a vaccine mandate which, he believed, could put the city in legal trouble for infringing on people’s protected rights.
Such legal questions, in addition to other already-scheduled confidential matters, resulted in committee going behind closed doors for a stretch of the afternoon.
After emerging from the in camera session, Van Holst reiterated his theories, arguing he was concerned about the city taking a policy approach relying on an industry, “when in the end, it’s our own immune systems that create immunity.”
“COVID, for what it what it is, is there, but on top of that, I see there’s a patina of hysteria about it, maybe a patina of fanaticism, so those two little things make it a little dangerous in that we can go too far. I’m concerned that we might be going farther than we need to.”
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Van Holst’s comments drew a strong rebuke from Chair Maureen Cassidy, who expressed concern about the use of ‘hysteria’ to describe the government and industry response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has left more than four million people dead around the world, according to John Hopkins University.
“I’m really alarmed when I hear about building immunity to a novel coronavirus that never existed before, so our body does not contain any natural immunity to that,” said Cassidy, who is also the chair of the board of health for London and Middlesex.
“Tens of thousands of people have died in Canada. Six-hundred-thousand people died in the U.S. that did not have to die. The vaccines have been proven to reduce, greatly, like almost 100 per cent, your risk of dying.”
As community members, it’s the responsibility of those who are able to get the vaccine to get the shot to help protect those who can’t, Cassidy said.
“We must be very mindful of the weight that our voices have in this position on council, and we have to be extremely responsible in how we use those voices. We have to do everything in our power to make sure that people know that these vaccines are safe.”
— with files from Jacquelyn LeBel
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