Cape Breton regional councillors have overruled an administrative protocol and voted in favour of a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy for municipal employees.
The new policy, approved Tuesday, requires staff to be fully vaccinated by Dec. 31 or face unpaid leave and possibly termination.
Deputy mayor Earlene MacMullin said one employee who does not want the vaccine challenged her authority to make the decision.
MacMullin said although she does not have a background in health care, she supports the recommendations of those who work in the field.
"It's difficult, but we made this decision as a council based on what we believe is the best for the majority," said MacMullin.
"I just hope people do take that into account and understand that it is a very mature decision by people that are not professionals in a certain area to take the advice of those that are."
In September, just before the province began lifting public health restrictions, CBRM chief administrative officer Marie Walsh said she had the authority to establish workplace protocols and planned to implement one that would encourage employee vaccination.
But Walsh said no one would be fired for refusing.
At the time, Mayor Amanda McDougall agreed and said unvaccinated CBRM staff would be subject to alternative measures, such as continued masking and testing.
But in October, councillors directed staff to bring back a stronger policy requiring employees to be vaccinated after several council members said they received calls from residents demanding a mandatory policy.
Last month, council was told 36 of the municipality's roughly 800 employees were not fully vaccinated.
On Tuesday, CBRM director of human resources Deanna Evely said that number is now around 20, and about half of those have had their first shot.
Coun. Cyril MacDonald said it is not easy having to decide between public safety and individual medical choices, and the implementation of a mandatory policy might be enough to sway the remaining holdouts.
"This is a difficult decision, but I think at the end of the day we need to protect the greater good," he said.
Exemptions will be allowed
According to the policy, staff with medical, religious or other exemptions under human rights legislation will be provided with work accommodations, such as being required to wear a mask and submit to regular testing.
Those who refuse but do not have a legitimate exemption will be placed on unpaid leave.
The policy says that leave ends if the employee becomes fully vaccinated, the provincial government lifts all pandemic restrictions, or CBRM determines the leave is no longer necessary.
But it also says employees who do not comply may be subject to discipline, up to and including dismissal.
The policy passed with only Coun. Gordon MacDonald voting against it.
A postal worker and union representative, MacDonald said he is not anti-vaccination and has been immunized.
But he said no one should be forced to give up their livelihood for what he called a personal right.
MacDonald said if CBRM can accommodate people with legitimate exemptions, it should be able to accommodate others.
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