TORONTO — An Ontario legislator who refused to get vaccinated against COVID-19 was removed from the governing Progressive Conservative caucus on Thursday.
Premier Doug Ford defended the party's decision to oust Rick Nicholls, saying elected officials must "lead by example" on vaccination.
Ford said Nicholls, who represents Chatham-Kent-Leamington, also won't be permitted to seek re-election as a Tory candidate after he "failed to provide a legitimate reason" for not getting vaccinated.
"It is my expectation that every PC caucus member and candidate not only support the role vaccines play in the fight against COVID-19, but also be vaccinated to protect themselves and the people in their community," Ford said in a statement.
He wrote that elected officials "must rightfully be held to a higher standard," adding their work puts them in regular interaction with the public and those vulnerable to the virus.
Nicholls and Scarborough Center representative Christina Mitas were both given a deadline of 5 p.m. on Thursday to show proof of vaccination or a medical exemption.
Ford said Mitas provided a medical exemption statement from a physician and will stay in caucus, taking "additional precautions" while carrying out her duties. His office did not provide details on what medical exemptions to vaccination were considered acceptable for caucus members.
Nicholls told a news conference earlier on Thursday that he made the "personal choice" not to get vaccinated and wouldn't be immunized against the virus.
"Under no circumstances will I, nor should any Ontarian, be forced or coerced to do something against their will," he said.
Nicholls left the news conference after taking one question from the media and did not elaborate on his personal reason for not taking the vaccine.
Ford, who is fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and has urged all Ontario residents to get immunized, has previously said he wouldn't make the vaccine mandatory, because he considers it a constitutional right not to take the shots.
Nicholls said he "took the premier at his word that vaccination is a choice and that all Ontarians have a constitutional right to make such a choice." He said he raised his concerns about the policy with Ford.
The directive applying to Tory caucus members was stricter than measures announced by Ford's government this week affecting workers in education, health care other high-risk settings.
Those policies would see unvaccinated workers subject to regular COVID-19 tests before coming to work.
The province also announced on Thursday that Ontario Public Service employees would need to be regularly tested if not vaccinated against the virus.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 19, 2021.
Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press