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Smiths Falls to vote on vaccine mandate

·2 min read

The Town of Smiths Falls will soon decide on a COVID-19 vaccination policy for staff.

During Monday night's committee of the whole meeting council discussed a possible mandatory vaccination policy, with the bylaw to adopt it set to be decided at the next council meeting on Nov. 1.

The proposed vaccination policy was presented by director of corporate services/clerk Kerry Costello.

Through a straw vote, a majority of councillors agreed they should proceed with staff's policy recommendation, said Costello.

The rest of the council members favoured a similar option that offered regular rapid antigen testing to people who are vaccine-hesitant or who have an exemption, with a possible cost attached for testing if the exemption does not fall under the Ontario Human Rights Code.

Four of seven councillors were in favour of a mandatory vaccine policy for all town employees.

Smiths Falls Mayor Shawn Pankow said making the decision was "gut-wrenching" as they're voting on people's livelihoods and future careers.

"As an employer we have a responsibility to protect our staff," added Pankow.

The policy that was recommended requires all existing and future employees who don't have a medical exemption or an exemption under the Ontario Human Rights Code to be vaccinated. If an employee decides to not get vaccinated and has no exemptions they will be terminated after any leaves have been exhausted.

If the recommended policy is passed at the next regular council meeting early next month, the vaccination policy will come into effect on Dec. 31, which would mean all staff without an exemption would have to have two vaccinations with a Health Canada or World Health Organization recognized COVID-19 vaccine.

"This is such a hard discussion to have," said Coun. Niki Dwyer during the meeting, adding that she is in favour of high vaccination rates but understands that getting vaccinated is a personal choice to some degree. She said that in some cases exemptions on compassionate grounds should be considered.

"I wouldn't want to see anyone lose their job when there were options available," added Coun. Christopher McGuire.

According to the policy statement, vaccination against COVID-19 is one of the best ways to protect workers and patrons from becoming seriously ill or transmitting the virus to others. However, it also explains that the vaccine will not totally eliminate the risk or transmission of COVID.

Councilor Lorraine Allen said she was initially hesitant about getting vaccinated due to previous health issues but now believes that mandating the policy is what is best, especially as leaders of the community.

"We’re not forcing people to be vaccinated. They have a choice," said Coun. Peter McKenna during the meeting.

(Jessica Munro is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Brockville Recorder and Times. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.)

Jessica Munro, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brockville Recorder and Times

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