Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he has asked the country’s top bureaucrat to look into mandating COVID-19 vaccination for workers in the federal public service and potentially federally regulated workplaces, too.
In a press conference Thursday, Trudeau said the roughly 80 per cent of Canadians who “are doing their duty” and getting vaccinated should “be able to get back more and more to normal.”
“We need to get vaccinated to get through this pandemic, particularly with all the real concerns around the Delta area variant we are facing that is striving hardest, obviously, in under-vaccinated and non-vaccinated people,” Trudeau said in response to questions from journalists.
“That’s why I’ve asked the Clerk of the Privy Council, who is responsible for the federal public service, to look at mandatory vaccinations for federal employees. And we’re also looking at federally regulated industries to encourage or perhaps even to mandate vaccinations for those industries.”
Federally regulated workplaces include banks, airlines, Crown corporations, broadcasters, and telecommunications companies. They employ nearly one million Canadians across the country.
Approximately 300,000 Canadians also work for the federal public service.
The sentiment appears to track with what is increasingly being offered by officials like Legault as well as leaders in countries like the U.S., France and Italy.
Vaccination requirements being put into place there appear poised to put the burden of any future restrictions needed to curb outbreaks on those who have chosen to remain unvaccinated, rather than those who have gotten their shots and have a much lower risk of severe outcomes from infection.
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Trudeau’s comments also come as Quebec Premier Francois Legault said on Thursday that province will move forward with vaccine passports in order for residents to access non-essential services, and as calls grow from medical professionals across the country for mandatory vaccines for health workers.
Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said getting people vaccinated is important in considering whether to bring people back into workplaces as the Delta variant continues to spread.
“I think the federal government, being a significant workforce, is looking at how we best protect our workforce as well as those around us. So I think everything is being reviewed and examined right now,” she said, noting those conversations are underway.
“It’s really important … if we’re going to have people come back to to work, that everyone should get the vaccine.”
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The Delta variant of the virus is highly contagious — significantly more so than previous versions of the illness — and its rapid spread has prompted officials to describe COVID-19 as a pandemic of the unvaccinated.
That comes as groups like the Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Nurses Association and the Ontario Hospital Association have issued calls for vaccines to be required for healthcare workers — a move one employment lawyer said could likely stand up in court if challenged.
“There actually is quite a bit of legal basis to say that employers, if need be, can require vaccinations,” said Malini Vijaykumar, a labour and employment lawyer with Nelligan Law in Ottawa.
She said the law makes it clear that employers must offer reasonable accommodations to those with a religious or medical reason not to get vaccinated, but that exemption will likely not apply to those who simply choose not to do so.
Vijaykumar noted the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms allows for some rights to be restricted, so long as the restrictions are balanced and proportional to the goal they are trying to achieve.
“What you want to show, first of all, is that you have a rational objective, so you can’t be passing a law that limits Charter rights just because you want to,” she said.
“I think in this case, the objective would be pretty clear.”
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