Smiths Falls adopts vaccine mandate

·3 min read

Smiths Falls council this week passed a bylaw to adopt a vaccine mandate for town employees.

"It's a very serious policy that we put in place," Coun. Peter McKenna said during Monday's council meeting. "It's a difficult decision but we believe it's the right one."

Members originally discussed the policy during an Oct. 25 committee of the whole meeting, and after multiple discussions and debate throughout this month between council members, the bylaw was passed.

The newly-adopted vaccine policy will require all staff employed by the town to be fully vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus, unless they have an exemption under the Ontario Human Rights Code.

People who are vaccine-hesitant would be required to get the jab to remain employed by the town. However, the policy will give staffers who are not vaccinated a month of unpaid leave before possible termination.

Employees will need to be fully vaccinated by Jan. 1, 2022 to remain employed by the town, explained director of corporate services/clerk Kerry Costello.

"As I said last discussion, this is a duty for care we have," not only for staff but the public as well, said Coun. Jay Brennan.

During last week's committee of the whole meeting, he said he believes that people need to get vaccinated.

Coun. Christopher McGuire said he agreed with Coun. Brennan that the council members do have a duty of care to protect fellow staff members and residents of Smiths Falls, but he added no one has illustrated how having a termination policy is more effective than having a regular COVID-19 testing policy.

"It's certainly not the more compassionate option," said McGuire, adding that the mandate for the required vaccination policy didn't come from the province or the chief medical officer of health or the local health unit.

Costello presented the vaccination policy to the council during the late October committee of the whole meeting. Staff had recommended implementing a mandatory policy to protect staff and the public that may interact with town employees.

The draft policy that was recommended requires all existing and future employees who don't have a medical exemption. or an exemption under the Ontario Human Rights Code, to be vaccinated. If an employee decides not to get vaccinated and has no exemption, they will be terminated after any leaves have been exhausted.

Some council members were in favour of a vaccine policy that would allow people who have an exemption under the Human Rights Code and people who are vaccine-hesitant to undergo regular rapid antigen testing and show proof of a negative result.

But a majority of council ultimately agreed on an alternate policy which was similar to the one recommended by staff but would give people more time before possible termination.

Coun. Wendy Alford said there is a need to acknowledge the hardships this has caused to some staff members.

"I will be supporting it but it is not without a lot of anguish."

Mayor Shawn Pankow said he had previously indicated that he was not supportive of the recommendation of the policy, but added that, as head of council, he respects the will of the majority.

"I will support the recommendation with the majority of council," said the mayor.

The motion was carried by five of the six councillors; Coun. Niki Dwyer was not in attendance.

(Jessica Munro is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Brockville Recorder and Times. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.)

Jessica Munro, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brockville Recorder and Times

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