Hay River council approves vaccine mandate for community centre in 5-3 vote

·3 min read
Mayor Kandis Jameson, pictured in this file photo, says passing the motion for a vaccine mandate at the community centre wasn't an easy decision to make 'but we are leaders for a reason, to make these tough decisions.' (Samantha Stuart Photography - image credit)
Mayor Kandis Jameson, pictured in this file photo, says passing the motion for a vaccine mandate at the community centre wasn't an easy decision to make 'but we are leaders for a reason, to make these tough decisions.' (Samantha Stuart Photography - image credit)

Hay River town council approved a motion on Monday night to re-open the Hay River Community Centre for people with proof of COVID-19 vaccination certificates. The motion passed by a 5-3 vote.

There is also an understanding that some mixed vaccination allowances may be permitted by public health for rentals and events of the space.

Over the course of the debate, which was streamed on YouTube, those against the vaccine mandate could be heard chanting sporadically from outside, with phrases such as "say no."

Several councillors said this decision was the hardest in their municipal careers.

Coun. Jeff Groenewegen, who voted against the motion, said he did so to take a stand against the order which he viewed as "trampling on rights," even though the public health order itself is not what was being voted on.

Coun. Keith Dohey, who ultimately voted in favour of the motion, said during the debate that council was "painted into a corner," a phrase later echoed by Mayor Kandis Jameson.

"None of us like this," said Jameson, "but we are leaders for a reason to make these tough decisions."

An effort to accommodate

Several questions arose for city staff as councillors searched for ways to be able to welcome unvaccinated members of the community in some way.

Glenn Smith, senior administrative officer, and Stephane Millette, director of recreation, told council they asked public health about the possibility of negative COVID-19 tests being an alternative to vaccination for entry. However, they said it was clear public health was not willing to support this proposal.

In an interview with CBC North following the council meeting, Jameson said the community centre had been closed for three weeks under a containment order by the Office of the Chief Public Health Officer. That order was lifted Sunday night, but council needed to make a plan for what re-opening would look like, she said.

"Nobody wants to make these decisions, but we are mandated by public health to follow the order," Jameson said.

As a member of council, she said the mental health component of not having the centre open was a significant factor influencing her decision.

Jameson said she felt people needed to be able to gather and use this space, especially as winter approached. There was also a financial component to the decision-making.

Smaller capacity limits means there would be less revenue compared to operating closer to full capacity.

'Torturous' to leave people out

The meeting was the first for newly elected Hay River councillors, which was an "unfortunate" introduction to council, she said.

Multiple councillors said they had received a barrage of emails and other contact from those opposed to the policy.

Coun. Linda Duford, who ultimately voted in favour of the motion, said she found it "torturous" knowing that those left out were neighbours and friends.

The decision was never about choosing to leave people out or divide people, said Jameson.

"Over the last [few] years since COVID-19 hit Canada, we have followed the advice of the chief public health officer and she has carried us through and done a heck of a job I might add," she said.

Council members are not public health experts, Jameson said, but the vaccine mandate follows public health advice while allowing the city to re-open the centre.

"It was a tough call. But as leaders that's what we do, we make these tough decisions."

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