Ottawa police urged to rethink COVID-19 vaccine policy

·3 min read
New Ottawa police recruits are seen at a badge ceremony last month. Both Mayor Jim Watson and Coun. Keith Egli, chair of the city's board of health, want the police force take a second look at its COVID-19 vaccine policy. (Francis Ferland/CBC - image credit)
New Ottawa police recruits are seen at a badge ceremony last month. Both Mayor Jim Watson and Coun. Keith Egli, chair of the city's board of health, want the police force take a second look at its COVID-19 vaccine policy. (Francis Ferland/CBC - image credit)

Ottawa's mayor and the chair of its board of health have urged the city's police force to reconsider its decision not to mandate COVID-19 vaccination for the majority of its members.

Last week, the Ottawa Police Service (OPS) unveiled a policy that stated any OPS member who had not declared they had two doses, and who lacked a legitimate exemption, would instead be required, as of Dec. 1, to provide a negative COVID-19 test every 72 hours.

Certain jobs would require full vaccination so they comply with other community organizations' policies.

"I don't support what the Ottawa police have done," Mayor Jim Watson told reporters after Wednesday's city council meeting.

"Police come in contact literally with dozens of people every single day. And for the life of me, I can't understand why they would not follow the same rules that other public servants in Ottawa — and quite frankly, throughout the country — are following."

'Review and rescind'

The City of Ottawa's own policy — which does not cover Ottawa police — requires all staff, volunteers, contractors and students to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Nov. 1 — next Monday.

Anyone who refuses and doesn't have a valid medical reason won't be allowed to remain on the job.

Watson said he hoped police board chair Coun. Diane Deans and police Chief Peter Sloly would come together to "review and rescind" the policy.

I think this needs to be revisited. It is a public health issue. - Coun. Keith Egli, chair of the Ottawa Board of Health

Ottawa Public Health had conversations with OPS about crafting a policy but did not recommend the direction the force ultimately took, said Coun. Keith Egli, chair of the Ottawa Board of Health.

"I think this needs to be revisited. It is a public health issue," Egli said Wednesday.

"This needs to be looked at again, not only for the general public, but for the police officers themselves. Both are at risk."

After this week's police board meeting, Sloly said the policy "lines up with the work done in other police jurisdictions in Ontario."

"Our goal is to make sure that our members do get fully vaccinated," said Sloly. "And the vast, vast majority of our members are already double vaccinated."

Fewer than 10 OPS members have tested positive for COVID-19 during the pandemic, Sloly said.

More than 8 in 10 fully immunized

The force put "a lot of thought and consideration into the policy" and decided it would keep members safe while not causing disruptions to police work in the community, said acting deputy Chief Trish Ferguson.

"I think it's important to point out that Ottawa police has been out responding and answering calls for service for 16 months now in this current climate," Ferguson told CBC.

"We have not ... had any cases where a member of the Ottawa Police Service has given any member of the public COVID."

Roughly 84 per cent of its more than 2,100 members are fully vaccinated, Ferguson said. The current policy is in effect until January 2022, she added.

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