Experts split on COVID-19 vaccine mandate for federal workers, travellers

Click to play video: 'AMA answers travel questions related to new vaccination requirements'
AMA answers travel questions related to new vaccination requirements
WATCH: AMA answers travel questions related to new vaccination requirements – Aug 14, 2021

As Canada prepares to enforce mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for all federal workers and travellers by this fall, experts are divided on the issue — with some pointing to its implementation as the right move forward while others say it is a step backward for Canadians’ fundamental rights.

Their comments come after the federal government on Friday announced mandatory vaccines for all workers in the federal sector by fall. The mandate also extends to travellers on commercial flights, as well as interprovincial trains and cruises.

“This is the best way to end the pandemic and allow the economy to safely remain open,” Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc told reporters at a news conference Friday.

Nearly half a million people currently work for the federal government, Crown corporations or federal police forces like the RCMP or military. Almost a million more work in other federally regulated industries.

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The idea to specifically make vaccinations mandatory for so many people appears “very troubling” to Christine Van Geyn, litigation director at The Canadian Constitution Foundation.

According to her, restricting Canadians’ movement across provinces would infringe on their charter protected rights.

“In our view, this is playing politics with our fundamental rights,” said Van Geyn.

Click to play video: 'AMA answers travel questions related to new vaccination requirements'
AMA answers travel questions related to new vaccination requirements

“I think vaccines are safe and effective, I think most people should get vaccinated, but is the government planning on creating exemptions for people who can’t get vaccinated for medical or conscientious or religious reasons?”

Transport Minister Omar Alghabra, who spoke at the same press conference, also confirmed a vaccine mandate for federal transport workers by the fall as well.

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“No later than the end of October, the government of Canada will require employees in the federally regulated air, rail and marine transport sectors to be vaccinated,” he said.

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According to LeBlanc, testing and screening measures for those who can’t be vaccinated due to medical reasons will be put into place, but did not add anything further on how they will deal with federal workers who don’t want to get vaccinated.

Though, according to Van Geyn, how the government would provide such exemptions — on both the federal and provincial level — is still pretty unclear at this point.

Click to play video: 'Vaccination passport implications'
Vaccination passport implications

“There’s a lot of a lack of clarity, and in my mind, this is just purely politics,” said Van Geyn.

LeBlanc’s announcement comes amid moves from other provinces to introduce vaccine passports within their jurisdictions, and just ahead of the prime minister calling a fall federal election — the latter of which will see the topic of mandatory vaccines as a major bucket issue.

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Manitoba and Quebec are now set to enforce vaccine passports within the next few months. Other provinces are still undecided at this point, though Ontario and Alberta have expressed their intention to not implement provincially regulated vaccine passports for use in public places.

Click to play video: 'Should Ontario introduce a vaccine passport?'
Should Ontario introduce a vaccine passport?

Over the last week, a plethora of post-secondary institutions have rallied around the idea of mandatory vaccines as well — announcing that students would need to be vaccinated to attend classes on campus by the fall semester.

University of Saskatchewan Professor and infectious diseases physician Dr. Alexander Wong told Global News on Friday that the federal government’s announcement to mandate vaccines for travellers and workers is a step in the right direction.

Though it still isn’t clear how the system will exempt some Canadians who are not able to get vaccinated or what will happen to kids under 12 — an age group still not approved to take the vaccine — Wong said that he was happy to hear that the government is willing to collaborate with several groups to “ensure that this is done in a way that’s fair and appropriate and safe for everybody.”

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“I think we’ve seen the public sentiment around this entire topic of mandatory vaccination shift dramatically, just in the last couple of weeks,” said Wong.

The federal government had previously resisted the idea of federally mandated vaccine passports several months ago, but adjusted their stance on the issue as the landscape turned more in favour of its use, LeBlanc said.

Businesses, labour groups and public health experts have also pointed to the use of vaccine passports as a way for economies to open and avoid renewed lockdowns amid the recent Delta variant-driven surge of COVID-19 across the country.

Click to play video: 'Vaccine passports set to launch this fall to help Canadians travel overseas'
Vaccine passports set to launch this fall to help Canadians travel overseas

Many organizations have come out in support of the COVID-19 vaccine mandate, including unions and groups based in the public service, medical and transport industries.

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Wong said that these types of mandates are essentially going to push a large chunk of people who are sitting on the fence about getting vaccinated to get their shot.

“It’s just going to push people to get it done and that’s what we need — especially now as Delta is obviously up ticking around most parts of Canada,” said Wong.

“And the quicker that we can get vaccine into arms again, the quicker that we’re going to be able to keep everyone safe.”

— With files from Twinkle Ghosh

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