Regina city council stands by city manager's decision to implement vaccine passports, amid protests

·4 min read
Approximately 100 anti-vaccine passport protesters gathered in front of city hall Wednesday afternoon to voice their opposition with signs and speeches.  (Richard Agecoutay/CBC - image credit)
Approximately 100 anti-vaccine passport protesters gathered in front of city hall Wednesday afternoon to voice their opposition with signs and speeches. (Richard Agecoutay/CBC - image credit)

Despite protests, Regina city council threw its support behind the city manager who made the decision to implement the province's first municipal vaccine passport system.

On Wednesday, council heard from 12 delegates on the upcoming proof of vaccination system at an afternoon meeting.

Approximately 100 anti-vaccine passport protesters gathered in front of City Hall over the afternoon to voice their opposition with signs and speeches.

Multiple protesters voiced their distrust in the media and others shared debunked conspiracy theories. Many were anti-vaccine and said that the upcoming vaccine passport impedes on their individual rights.

In August, the city announced its plan to require vaccines for anyone who wants to enter civic facilities like recreation centres, city hall or city buses.

The decision was made by city manager Chris Holden, who was delegated emergency powers to make such COVID-19 decisions in April 2020. That power was never rescinded.

Trent Peppler/CBC
Trent Peppler/CBC

That vaccine passport plan was supposed to come into effect on Sept. 20, but is now being rolled back until Nov. 15. The main obstacle, according to the city, is getting the technology right.

Holden's report on the delay in the city's proof of COVID-19 vaccination requirement for city facilities was discussed during the meeting.

Speaking out

Many delegates that spoke at the city council meeting on Wednesday questioned the severity of the pandemic and the efficacy of the vaccines.

Others said they were worried about sharing personal medical information, which they said was illegal to require.

One delegate was concerned that the city manager made the decision to enforce vaccine passports and continues to have emergency power to make such decisions.

"Last fall, we voted for our mayor and the members of city council to represent us in the decisions that are being made for the citizens of this city," said delegate Chelsa Budd.

"Respectfully, we didn't elect Mr. Holden to make these decisions. We elected our mayor and city councillors to do that. The dire urgency of the pandemic in 2020 is lessened. It's arguably gone from what it was last year and with it, the need for nimble decision making by one person."

Richard Agecoutay/CBC
Richard Agecoutay/CBC

Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic in Saskatchewan has worsened. The province recorded its highest daily case count of the entire pandemic on Tuesday.

Over the past two days, the province has reported approximately 200 cases in children under the age of 12.

Budd was not the only delegate to voice their disappointment in Holden's emergency powers.

After all delegates were heard, Ward 5 Councillor John Findura made a motion to axe vaccine passports for Regina residents.

"This is not personal, this is business. This is about who elected us to be here," Findura said.

Multiple councillors voiced their disappointment in Findura's motion, which was ultimately defeated nine to two.

Following the vote, Ward 2 Councillor Bob Hawkins spoke out in support of Holden and the work he and his team had done on the city's COVID-19 response. Hawkins made a motion to affirm Holden's COVID-19 actions.

"You have heard criticism today from delegations that was entirely unjustified," Hawkins told Holden.

"It's important that you understand that council has your back. Council respects what you've done and is fully supportive."

The motion was approved unanimously. However, Ward 10 Councillor Landon Mohl, who had voted to get rid of vaccine passports for residents, left the meeting beforehand and did not vote.

Richard Agecoutay/CBC
Richard Agecoutay/CBC

QR code on its way

According to Holden, a QR code for vaccine verification will be in place by Sept. 20. However, the city needs more time to test and implement the technology and give Regina residents time to acquire the QR code.

Meanwhile, a proof of vaccination requirement begins this week for city employees. By Nov. 15, the requirement will expand to any members of the public accessing city facilities.

Regina is the first jurisdiction in the province to mandate a vaccine passport.

"I think given our third wave, which we experienced to a much greater extent than the rest of the province did, I think we learned a lesson from it. I would suggest that lent itself into the decision today that you heard from council," Mayor Sandra Masters told press following Wednesday's city council meeting.

"We know that in order to keep employees safe in facilities that we're looking for proof of vaccination from the public attending those facilities. And I think as well to reduce the transmission where children are playing."

Meanwhile, during the council meeting, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney introduced strict and sweeping new measures to combat the spread of COVID-19 as he apologized for his government's handling of the pandemic.

The measures include a new program that requires people to provide proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test in order to gain entry to participating businesses and social events.

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