Toronto Mayor John Tory announced on Thursday, Aug. 19, that all city staff must be fully vaccinated for the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) by Oct. 30.

In a press conference, Tory stated the delta variant was the main reason behind the policy. He also cited the fact that the majority of city employees have already been vaccinated. Tory added that his government is approaching the situation with “an unrelenting, laser-like focus.”

“This situation with the delta variant continues to be one that we must take seriously. There is simply too much at stake not to take it as seriously as we possibly can,” he said.

Employees will be required to disclose their vaccination status by Sept. 13. If an employee refuses to receive the COVID-19, they will then be required to attend mandatory education on the supposed benefits of the inoculation. After the education session, they will then be required to submit proof of their first dose by Sept. 30.

The city is also not ruling out frequent and mandatory testing of unvaccinated employees until they can provide proof of vaccination.

“Our end goal is to encourage and persuade people to get vaccinated if they haven’t already so our city workplaces, which include many public places, are as safe as possible for them and the people we serve,” Tory said.

It was not clear what would happen to the employees who would refuse the vaccine even after the education session and the deadline. “We will deal with this as you would deal with many other instances of policies the city has which are necessary to have a safe, healthy and productive workplace,” Tory said without elaborating.

The mayor insisted that the city will comply with its human rights obligations and accommodate employees with medical exemptions and those who are legally entitled to refuse the vaccine.

“But this policy will make it clear that we will not let people who don’t have a valid medical or human rights reason not to get vaccinated to put themselves, to put their co-workers, to put their entire workplace, and in some cases members of the public at risk. We just cannot afford to have that,” Tory said.

Transit commission also mandates employees to get COVID-19 vaccine

The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) has also mandated that its employees get vaccinated against COVID-19. “This is one more thing we can do for ourselves and each other to limit the spread of COVID-19,” TTC Chief Executive Officer Richard Leary said in a statement.

TTC spokesperson Stuart Green said the TTC will follow the same guidelines as the city by requiring all staff to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 30. “We have, you know, thousands of frontline employees who are operating our vehicles, who are in contact with hundreds of thousands of our customers every day, so our customers need to know that our employees are doing their part,” he said.

Green said he believes the majority of TTC workers are already fully vaccinated. Details about the TTC’s vaccine policy are being finalized and will be released later this month.

Public transit workers slam TTC’s vaccine mandate

ATU Local 113, a union representing nearly 12,000 public transit workers in Toronto and York Region, is not pleased with the TTC’s move. “The TTC has clearly not finalized how any potential policy will work, or made clear what alternatives to vaccination (if any) will be offered. The TTC has also not made clear what consequences (if any) will flow from a member’s refusal to be vaccinated,” union president Carlos Santos said in a statement.

“Whatever the TTC ultimately determines, please know that Local 113 will aggressively oppose any action of the TTC which violates the rights of any member, whether it be unreasonable exercise of management’s rights, an express violation of the Collective Agreement, or a violation of the law, including the Human Rights Code.”

Both the city and the TTC said that employees with medical reasons would be exempt from participating in the experimental vaccination. David Mitchell, president of CUPE Local 79 representing Toronto’s indoor workers, said: “Some of our members have legitimate human rights grounds for remaining unvaccinated, and I am pleased the City has said it intends to accommodate those employees.”

Canadians oppose draconian COVID-19 policies

Canadian leaders have been stepping up their efforts to vaccinate their constituents. On Aug. 5, Quebec’s Premier Francois Legault announced that the Canadian province plans to introduce a vaccine passport to counter the spread of the delta variant. 

Legault’s announcement led to a large gathering of people in downtown Montreal to protest against Quebec’s vaccine passport.

According to the Facebook page of Quebec Debout, the online group behind the protest whose name means “Quebec Stand Up,” the vaccination passport system is “an unprecedented prejudice for the population that is strongly discriminatory.”

Civil liberties groups have raised concerns about data security while opposition parties have called for a public debate regarding the rollout of vaccination passports. More than a hundred people also protested in front of La Cage, a sports bar and restaurant in Quebec City and the first business to test the vaccination passport system as part of the province’s pilot project.

Details about the vaccine passport are still being worked out, but it is expected to only allow those who are fully vaccinated access to festivals, bars, restaurants and physical training facilities.

“The principle behind the vaccine passport is that people who have made the effort to get their two doses should be able to live a semi-normal life,” Legault said in a press conference. “We will give certain privileges to those who have agreed to make the effort to get their two shots.”

For several months, the province has been issuing QR codes, or quick response codes, to vaccinated people. Those codes, which can be printed or stored on a mobile device, are scanned to pull up information about a person’s vaccination status.

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