OTTAWA — The Liberal government made good Wednesday on a pre-election pledge to make COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for all federal public employees — and put in place the same requirement for passengers on certain planes, trains and cruise ships.
“The policy is, as of Oct. 29, if you want to work for the government of Canada — which means the people of Canada — you have to be fully vaccinated,” said Deputy Minister Chrystia Freeland, who was joined by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at a news conference Wednesday.
A separate vaccination mandate for people travelling on federally regulated airplanes, trains and certain marine vessels is also set to start Oct. 30.
“There will be a short period where people who are in the process of getting vaccinated can show a negative COVID-19 test. By the end of November, if you’re 12 or older, and want to fly, or take the train, you’ll have to be fully vaccinated, as will staff,” Trudeau said.
The new rules mean that anyone travelling domestically will need to provide proof that they have received a full series or combination of approved COVID-19 shots. The last dose must have been obtained at least 14 days prior to travel.
It will fall to air, rail and marine operators to verify vaccination status, government officials said.
Ferries are excluded from the mandate, and exceptions will be made for members of Indigenous communities who access essential services, such as medical care, through air travel.
As for vaccination requirements for federal workers, the measures apply to public servants who are part of the “core public administration,” which includes those who work within federal departments, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Correctional Service Canada and the Canada Border Services Agency.
Employees who work remotely and internationally must also be fully vaccinated.
But members of departments that serve the public, including Service Canada, Veterans Affairs and the Canada Revenue Agency, will not fall under the policy, nor will members of the Canadian Armed Forces.
“We are also directing Crown corporations and agencies to implement policies that mirror those we are announcing today,” Freeland said. “The chief of defence staff will issue a directive mandating vaccination for the Canadian Armed Forces, and we are working with employers in federally regulated workplaces.”
Public servants who are medically cleared to not be vaccinated, as well as those who require accommodation based on religion or other prohibited grounds for discrimination according to the Canadian Human Rights Act, are also exempt.
Those employees — and those who are in the process of getting fully vaccinated — can be accommodated through other measures, such as mandatory testing.
The policy says harassment directed against any individuals based on their vaccination status will not be tolerated.
Public servants who are unwilling to disclose their vaccination status or get fully vaccinated will first be required to attend an online training session on COVID-19 vaccination.
The consequences ramp up from there; within two weeks of the Oct. 29 deadline, employees will be barred from accessing their workplaces and participating in off-site visits, business-related travel and conferences. Those employees can also be placed on unpaid leave — even if they work remotely — and will not be entitled to Employment Insurance benefits in most cases.
Partially vaccinated employees will be placed on leave only if they have not received their second dose within 10 weeks of receiving their first.
The proof of vaccination process differs, however, from the vaccination certificate system in place in many parts of the country: employees only need to sign an online attestation form confirming their status.
“Anyone who lies on their attestation will face severe consequences, and there will be verifications done over the following weeks to ensure that everyone is vaccinated,” Trudeau said.
Fully vaccinated employees are considered to be those who have received both doses of Health Canada vaccines that require two shots, those who have received mixed doses as approved by the National Advisory Committee on Immunization and people who have received one dose of vaccines approved for a one-shot regimen. For Quebec residents, a laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 infection plus at least one dose of an authorized vaccine will also suffice.
Wednesday’s announcement could also rekindle old tensions over how to safely convene Parliament as the pandemic continues, with the mandate for federal workers sparking questions over whether the House of Commons will follow the same path.
“Everyone who works for the federal government, who works within the parliamentary precinct, will be required to be vaccinated,” Trudeau said. “MPs, because of issues of parliamentary privilege, will have to figure out how to move forward.”
But the prime minister was aiming his remarks at one party in particular: Erin O’Toole’s Conservatives.
“I know discussions are engaged with — let’s be direct about it — members of the Conservative Party of Canada, who have not been unequivocal on vaccinations. We know that all other MPs in this House will be vaccinated,” the prime minister said.
“They will have MPs not able to get on planes to come to Ottawa if they’re unvaccinated. They will have MPs putting their fellow colleagues at risk in a large but closed, windowless room in the House of Commons, who may be sitting beside or near someone who is unvaccinated.”
The Conservatives did not respond to a request for comment from the Star regarding Trudeau’s remarks.
O’Toole refused to say how many Tory MPs running in this year’s federal election were fully vaccinated, and the party has maintained its opposition to vaccination mandates in favour of allowing people to make their own decisions about their health.
Officials said the House of Commons and Senate will be asked to “mirror” the same policy outlined in the employee vaccination mandate, but complying with the request is not mandatory and will have to be done “under their own governance and authority framework.”
Last week, Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet said Parliament should resume in person, with all MPs fully vaccinated.
On Tuesday, following a caucus meeting with Tory MPs, O’Toole told reporters that he believes vaccines “are the most important tool that we have in our fight against COVID-19.”
“All Conservative MPs will follow health guidance, and not just here on Parliament Hill and in the precinct, but in all of our duties from coast to coast,” the he said.
The Commons is set to resume sometime before Dec. 21.
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