12 members of Inuvik Marine Rescue Unit suspended over vax policy

·3 min read
Paul MacDonald in a file photo from 2018. MacDonald is one of 12 people who have been temporarily suspended from the Coast Guard Auxiliary's Marine Rescue Unit in Inuvik for failing to disclose their vaccination status.  (Mackenzie Scott/CBC - image credit)
Paul MacDonald in a file photo from 2018. MacDonald is one of 12 people who have been temporarily suspended from the Coast Guard Auxiliary's Marine Rescue Unit in Inuvik for failing to disclose their vaccination status. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC - image credit)

Paul MacDonald was the leader of the volunteer Inuvik Coast Guard Auxiliary Marine Rescue Unit for eight years, until earlier this month.

That's when he and 11 members of his team were suspended from active duty for failure to comply with the organization's COVID-19 vaccination policy.

"I don't know what's going to happen," MacDonald told CBC News. "I know that they say that there is still search and rescue for the area. And I'm quite interested to see how that's going to work out and how they're going to provide it, given that there's only two members left of the unit."

Coast Guard Auxiliaries are active across the country, and are made up of local volunteers who use their own vessels to respond to emergencies. The Marine Rescue Unit in Inuvik also owns three vessels it uses in search and rescues.

MacDonald said he learned of the vaccination policy in February, and was given a deadline of March 1 to report the vaccine status of volunteers in his unit.

"[They] wanted us to collect their personal health information, which I refused to do," MacDonald said, "so I sent a list of members that were not willing or interested in providing their vaccination status to a non-profit organization.

"Subsequently, by doing that, they have all been suspended, including myself."

Change to vax mandate could be coming

In a June 1 letter, the president of the Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary, Central and Arctic Region, noted that the suspensions are only in effect until the members get vaccinated or the federal mandate for vaccination is removed.

So far, that mandate has not been removed, even though a similar mandate for air travelers came to an end June 20.

In a separate email, an official with the Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary said it is in the process of "reviewing and revising [its] current COVID policies based on the changes at the federal level."

The same letter notes that the suspended volunteers are "valuable members" of the organization.

'Unorganized and unprofessional'

The disruption in service is a concern for Jimmy Kalinek, a member of the Inuvik and Inuvialuit Hunters and Trappers Committee.

Kalinek plans to meet with the Inuvik Rangers on July 5 to discuss ways to address the search and rescue shortage.

"We just don't want to be leaving out the community with no resources or nobody to turn to," Kalinek said.

He believes what's happened with the Coast Guard auxiliary is "unorganized and unprofessional," but he, for one, is still willing to help out if a rescue is needed.

"It's just a community thing, you know?" he said. "If somebody needs help, they're stuck or they're broke down somewhere ... Growing up, we were taught to go out and help."

RCMP Staff Sgt. Bruce McGregor said the loss of the members "did leave somewhat of a gap, for sure," but he said he's not overly concerned for those heading out on the water.

"I've been led to believe by the existing leader of the unit here that if we do get a call this evening, they are good to go," he said.

MacDonald too said he wouldn't hesitate to help anyone in need, should the occasion arrive.

"You don't leave someone stranded," he said.

"But what I don't have access to now are the vessels capable of doing that job safely."

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