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Vaccine policy will cover all city staff, councillors

City of Thunder Bay employees required to prove vaccination or undergo education session, regular testing.
Thunder Bay City Hall

THUNDER BAY – The City of Thunder Bay will implement a vaccine policy requiring all employees, city councillors, and volunteers to disclose their vaccination status.

Those groups will need to either prove they’re fully vaccinated or undergo regular antigen testing, as well as an education session on the COVID-19 vaccine, under a policy passed unanimously by city council Monday..

The policy may ruffle some feathers, but Mayor Bill Mauro said in an interview Tuesday it was essential to protect city employees and the public, who they routinely interact with. The policy is also consistent with those being passed by many other public and private sector employers, he noted.

"There will be some people that aren’t happy with it, there’s no doubt," he said. "We understand and appreciate that you have to respect people’s opinions. At the same time, employers also can make a choice. What we’re doing is making a choice we think is in the best interest not only of the employees of the City of Thunder Bay, but of the entire city.”

The city is required by provincial legislation to develop vaccine policies in areas like childcare, EMS, specialized transit, and long-term care. An amendment from Coun. Brian McKinnon widened that group to include all city staff, city councillors, and volunteers (Mauro had previously called for the policy to be extended to frontline workers).

Council passed that amendment and the policy itself without discussion Monday night. The item was also not discussed in a closed session held earlier in the day, said McKinnon.

That shows the vaccine rules are common sense policy with widespread support, he believes.

"Obviously, [other councillors] felt the same way, that this is fair," he said. “It’s not like this is extraordinary – many other jurisdictions are doing this.”

"At the end of the day, we're fighting something dreadful. We don't want to be part of the next wave. We have to do everything we can to keep everybody healthy... We don't want a repeat of another lockdown - that would be dreadful, not just for the economy but for people's social interactions."

The Thunder Bay District Health Unit “strongly recommend[ed]” having a vaccine policy that covers all city employees, according to a report from the office of city manager Norm Gale.

Unlike some other public and private employers, the city will allow those who choose not to be vaccinated to continue working.

CUPE Local 87, the largest bargaining unit within the city, has said it would oppose a vaccine policy that involved discipline or suspension of workers who choose not to be vaccinated.

Gale has said the requirement for regular testing will help balance the health risk of unvaccinated workers, while warning policies could change as the public health situation evolves.

Mauro echoed that message on Tuesday.

"I think for now it’s the right thing to do, but who knows where we may be in two weeks or six weeks – you may see a different approach from senior orders of government potentially, or individual municipalities or employers," he said.

Mandatory COVID-19 vaccine disclosure policies haven’t yet been tested in court or in labour arbitration, the city report notes, but it suggested there is a firm grounding for the requirements.

“Such request of information is permitted by law, provided it is requested for bona fide work-related reasons and the information is secured and stored appropriately,” reads the city report.

That accords with guidance offered by the Ontario Human Rights Commission on its website.

City staff and others covered by the policy will be required to provide a copy of their vaccine receipt by Sept. 24. Those who are not vaccinated or do not provide proof of vaccination will be required to undergo an education session by Oct. 1.

The requirement for regular testing doesn’t kick in until Nov. 1. The frequency of the rapid tests will depend on the person's role, with factors like how much they interact with the public and other employees considered.

The city will document the vaccination status of those individuals, but will not retain a copy of their vaccine receipt. Information on vaccine status won’t be disclosed to any third parties without consent, the city said.