Chatham-Kent has approved a vaccine policy for all members of council and municipal volunteers.
The new rules line up with the decisions of several nearby areas including Sarnia, Leamington and Tecumseh. It stops short of policies introduced in London and Windsor where vaccines are now a mandatory condition of employment.
In Chatham-Kent, the vaccine is now encouraged but there’s an alternative in the form of negative testing. Anyone who declines the shot must submit a negative COVID test within 72 hours of coming to a municipal building to take part in meetings or other events.
The motion, introduced by Councillor Joe Faas, passed by a clear 14-3 majority.
“This is not something that is forcing people to do things, rather it’s outlining the process for which we will make safe our public spaces which is something as public servants, both elected and employed, that we have an obligation to do,” says Councillor Melissa Harrigan, who seconded the motion.
The vote was not without opposition, although much of it focused on a separate municipal vaccine policy which was also recently revealed. It closely mirrors the new council policy with the main difference being all municipal employees who refuse the vaccine must continually provide negative tests every 72 hours to continue participating in full-time shifts.
The municipal policy was introduced by administration and not voted on by council.
Councillor Steve Pinsonneault took issue with unvaccinated workers being required to submit negative tests at their own expense.
“I’ve been contacted by several firefighters who say they will not get the vaccine and they will not pay for their tests,” says Pinsonneault, who is a volunteer firefighter with the Thamesville Fire Department.
Fire Chief Chris Case says he doesn’t know exactly how many firefighters are vaccinated. If there are resignations Case says they’ll address the problem short-term by sending nearby units to assist with calls and long-term they’d hire more firefighters.
The Thamesville councillor also says people have told him they won’t be ready for the Oct. 18 deadline for double vaccination. Chief Human Resources Officer Cathy Hoffman says staff have known for awhile a policy was coming, “So this hasn’t been a surprise that we’re headed down this path.” But she adds a plan can be worked out with anyone who gets a vaccine going forward.
People with one dose will be subject to the same testing rules as unvaccinated staff, but these are lifted once they get their second shot and two weeks have passed.
Pinsonneault further wondered why firefighters had to pay for testing and paramedics didn’t. Hoffman says paramedics, who have a similar vaccine and testing policy, are legislated under a provincial code so their testing costs are covered. Firefighters are in a municipal category so this isn’t the case.
Pinsonneault says he may look to address this through a council vote at a later meeting.
But Councillor Marjorie Crew says members of the public she’s spoken to have no interest in seeing their tax dollars go to funding tests for unvaccinated workers. “We can choose to be vaccinated, we can choose if not to be tested,” says Crew, who supported the motion.
As has become custom with COVID discussions many of the comments veered wildly off course, particularly the deputations. Seven letters in opposition of the vaccine policy focused heavily on faulty medical claims or debunked conspiracy theories.
But it wasn’t just the public contributing to this discourse. Councillor Amy Finn claimed the policy violates a slew of laws including the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, Personal Health Information Protection Act and Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection Privacy Act, among others.
Finn also echoed a deputation which said the policy violates the Nuremburg Code, written following World War II to address and prevent any further instances of the human experimentation carried out by Nazis on their prisoners.
Mayor Darrin Canniff eventually asked Finn to “wrap it up” as she passed double the five minutes allotted for councillors to speak on a matter.
Director of Legal Service David Taylor says “clearly that’s not the case” in response to potential violation of the Nuremburg Code. “Vaccinations are a normal thing in our society, it’s not a medical experiment.”
Taylor also says the online system used to record staff vaccination statuses has been tested for privacy concerns and is secure.
Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Colby spoke up as well to refute some of the claims. He says Nuremburg was written in response to “unethical, violent experiments that were performed without consent on people who were prisoners of conscience and prisoners of racist doctrines in Nazi facilities.”
“To draw comparison between vaccinations, which are fully approved, not experimental, have an overwhelming safety record and are designed to improve the health and welfare of people through both personal protection and protection of those around them, I’m very disturbed by this and I hope I’m not out of line expressing my dismay with regard to that,” says Colby.
Chatham’s top doctor also responded to deputations claiming there were aborted fetal cells and human tissues in the vaccine, saying of course this was not true. He added discussion around vaccine side effects was also disproportionate to their medical and societal benefits.
Harrigan says most of the people she’s spoken to support the policy, but it’s clear from the deputations more needs to be done.
“We need to do more work in helping people understand what it is that is in the vaccine, what resources people have available to them to learn more about the vaccine and certainly what this policy represents, both the council and shared employee policy,” says Harrigan.
Alex Kurial, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Independent