Yellowknife councillor says vaccine policy for city facilities akin to racial segregation of Black people

·3 min read
Coun. Niels Konge said policies from the government of the Northwest Territories are creating
Coun. Niels Konge said policies from the government of the Northwest Territories are creating

A city councillor in Yellowknife has compared a proof-of-vaccine policy for city facilities to historical segregation of Black people.

Coun. Niels Konge joined most of his colleagues Monday during a committee debate in speaking against a policy that would allow more people in city facilities, but would require them to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Konge expressed frustration with public health orders that have changed frequently, and said policies from the government of the Northwest Territories are creating "classes of people."

"I don't think we have to go back very far and there (were) people in Canada who would sit at the front of the bus, and they weren't allowed to sit there. It wasn't for them. And I think we're doing the same thing here," Konge said.

The comparison sparked a response from Coun. Shauna Morgan, who called it inaccurate and inappropriate.

"I just have to be honest and say that I have been feeling nauseous at some of the comparisons that have been made between the current experiences of people who are unvaccinated and historically groups that have been systematically oppressed because of their race, because of their culture," she said.

"The experiences and concerns of people currently who are choosing to be unvaccinated is very, very, very different from historical and current cases of systemic oppression and racism."

A month ago, Konge made news for comparing the experience of businesses to the Sixties Scoop. He later apologized for that comparison.

Concerns over fairness

The policy in question would allow city facilities to operate at near-normal capacity with up to 100 people indoors at a time, but those users would have their vaccine status checked at the door.

Councillors heard the risk of spreading COVID-19 is high in city facilities where users play sports and are in close contact with each other.

Without the policy, 25 people would be permitted each at the field house and multiplex; 30 would be permitted at the Ruth Inch Memorial Pool; and 32 would be permitted at the library.

Walter Strong/CBC
Walter Strong/CBC

Councillors who spoke against the proposed policy, including Konge, Steve Payne, Stacie Smith, Rommel Silverio and Robin Williams, all said the issue came down to fairness for them. Many argued it wouldn't be fair for unvaccinated taxpayers to be barred from facilities funded through those tax dollars.

"This is not about a debate on whether the vaccine works or not – this is a debate on fairness," said Smith.

"In fairness to our community, everyone should have access, period. We're supposed to be inclusive, period."

Some councillors also questioned guidance from the Office of the Chief Public Health Officer, arguing that public health orders have changed so often that it's likely they will change again soon.

Those in favour of the policy included Morgan, Mayor Rebecca Alty and Coun. Julian Morse.

The only city councillor that wasn't at the committee meeting was Cynthia Mufandaedza.

Morse reminded councillors none of them are health experts, and suggested that without expertise, the best course would be to defer to public health advice.

The policy will now go to the nine-member city council on Nov. 8 when the committee will recommend that council vote not to adopt the policy.

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