CENTRE WELLINGTON - A councillor’s motion to repeal the township's COVID vaccine verification policy was rejected Monday.
At Monday’s council meeting, coun. Steven VanLeeuwen’s motion to repeal the COVID-19 vaccine verification policy was rejected by council. He gave his notice of motion at the Nov. 29’s council meeting.
The policy states “all new or rehired Township of Centre Wellington employees, including returning seasonal and student employees, are required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as a condition of being hired or rehired by the Township of Centre Wellington”.
The policy applies to all new and rehired township employees, volunteers, students and contractors.
Coun. Steven VanLeeuwen asked council to direct the CAO to remove the policy He said public health authorities have acknowledged that vaccines do not prevent infection or transmission of COVID.
Eighteen delegates, including Sonya Anderson from Canadian COVID Care Alliance, Niel Karrow, professor of immunology at University of Guelph, Western professor Julie Ponesse and local residents spoke to council in support of VanLeeuwen’s motion.
The motion was rejected by a 4-3 vote. Joining VanLeeuwen in voting in support of the motion were councillors Stephen Kitras and Ian MacRae.
Mayor Kelly Linton expressed that VanLeeuwen’s motion was an “unprecedented motion for council to consider.”
“With all the unusual things that our council has dealt with over the last few years, we’ve never seen a motion like this before. We’re asking our council to direct our CAO to rescind an internal operating policy; we’re not being asked to consider a council bylaw. We’re being asked to reverse an administrative staff policy that does not apply to members of council,” said Linton.
“Regardless of whether or not I agree with councillor VanLeeuwen’s motion, I’m very concerned that this motion falls outside council’s statutory authority. To put it bluntly, I’m not sure this motion is legal. If this motion is not legal, it puts the township on a very shaky ground from a liability perspective.”
John Mascarin, one of township's lawyers, explained that the CAO is a permissive, statutory officer of the municipality under section 229 of the municipal act. The responsibility of the CAO, if appointed, they are responsible for exercising general control and management of the affairs of the municipality for the purpose of ensuring the efficient and effective operation of the municipality.
Andy Goldie was appointed by council to be the township CAO with terms of authority exactly the same as permitted under section 229 of the municipal act.
“As such, the motion could be deemed in conflict with the CAO’s statutory as well as his delegated authority as given to him by council. The vaccine policy was developed, implemented and enforced at the direction and at the authorization of the CAO as required by law and as permitted under law,” said Mascarin.
VanLeeuwen’s motion proposes to change an administrative policy, not a council policy, that the CAO has specific statutory authorization to put in place.
While the Municipal Act does not prevent council from lawfully enacting bylaws which have impact on human resources policies that are applicable to the municipality’s employees, such authority has already been seated and granted by the council to the CAO, and it’s granted to him lawfully which cannot be derogated from by council.
“There was no cogent or persuasive evidence in our view indicating that such authority was improperly exercised by the CAO. To the contrary, there’s compelling evidence to support the actions of the CAO in implementing the vaccination policy that seeks to protect the health and safety of the township’s workers as well as the public,” Mascarin said.
Michael Horvat, another of the township’s lawyers, also explained that the vaccination policy is lawful under statutes in employment law as it is set to protect workers from harm.
“Section 25 (2)(h) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) which requires every employer to take every precaution, reasonable in the circumstances, for the protection of a worker. It’s not a protection of an employee but a worker,” said Horvat.
Council members are not employers of a worker, but the employer status falls under the municipality itself, which legally falls under the CAO’s roles and responsibilities, council was told.
Angelica Babiera, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, GuelphToday.com