‘Legally defensible’: Calgary councillors join call to enact public health measures

Pandemic entry precautions have been lifted at Calgary city hall as of July 21, 2021. Dani Lantela/Global News/File

A Calgary councillor is calling for a vaccine mandate for all City of Calgary workers.

That follows calls from a pair of other councillors for a special meeting of council to hear the latest COVID-19 data in the city and to deliberate on further public health actions.

Read more: Alberta’s 4th wave of COVID-19 mirrors the beginning of previous 2 spikes: Expert

Ward 12 Coun. Shane Keating calls it a leadership issue.

“What we should be doing is (asking), ‘What should we be doing to make sure that we are safe wherever we go?’

Keating doesn’t think 100 per cent of Calgarians must get the vaccine, recognizing there are legitimate reasons to opt out. But he does think there should be responsibility for those who don’t want to get the vaccine.

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Read more: Alberta reports 1,112 new COVID-19 infections Thursday as hospitalizations rise

“What I’m saying is if you choose not to — not for a medical reason but because of a personal belief or choice — I’m OK with that but you’re not sitting next to me at a hockey game, and I think that’s certainly appropriate,” Keating said. “You’re not sitting next to me in a cubicle while I’m at work.

“And I think that’s certainly appropriate and I think that’s legally defensible.”

Keating said he could see testing as an alternative for those who cannot get vaccinated for medical reasons.

“I’m not interested in someone making a personal choice not to get (vaccinated) and then demanding that they get a test and someone else pay for the test,” Keating said.

Calling a special meeting

For weeks, Ward 3 Coun. Jyoti Gondek and Ward 7 Coun. Druh Farrell have been calling for a special meeting of council to hear the latest on escalating case numbers in the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and to decide on what other measures could be put in.

A majority of councillors need to agree in order for a special meeting to be called. The mayor could also call a meeting with 24 hours notice.

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In a statement to Global News, Mayor Naheed Nenshi said he continues to monitor the COVID-19 situation in the city.

“As I’ve said, if there is enough demand from city councilors, I will call a special meeting,” the mayor said.

Coun. Farrell initiated a request for a special meeting Friday morning. By midday, she had only received responses from two councillors.

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There are 2,838 active cases in the Calgary zone, as of Aug. 27. Only the Edmonton zone has more cases at 3,026.

Hospitalizations in the Calgary zone entered triple-digits on Friday, with 101 in hospital and 20 in ICU. Edmonton has 117 in hospital and 30 in intensive care.

According to AHS data, less than two-thirds of Calgarians are fully-immunized against COVID-19, leaving more than 470,000 people of all ages especially vulnerable to the virus.

In the broader AHS Calgary zone, that number dips to just more than 63 per cent who have received both doses of a vaccine, and more than 600,000 underprotected.

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Read more: Calgary schools prepare for 2 elections amid 4th COVID-19 wave

Ward 11 Coun. Jeromy Farkas said he does not support an emergency meeting right now.

“City council are not health experts,” Farkas said. “The city isn’t a health organization.”

Through much of the pandemic, city council has received updates from the Calgary Emergency Management Agency (CEMA), Farkas said.

Read more: Alberta’s COVID-19 surge spurs delays for up to 30% of non-urgent surgeries in Edmonton zone

Doctors and epidemiology experts from the University of Calgary have been regularly consulted as well.

Farkas said he’d be happy with having CEMA post localized data online, to help Calgarians understand COVID-19 in the city.

“But I think just having an emergency meeting without a specific purpose to it, I think would just drum up fear and anxiety at a time that council should be very focused on the economy.”

Another approach

“This is not endemic, as Dr. Hinshaw said, this is still a pandemic,” Ward 13 Coun. Diane Colley-Urquhart said. “This is a pandemic of the unvaccinated now.”

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She said she’s concerned about governments interfering with the operations of private organizations and has been encouraged to see businesses like Calgary Sports and Entertainment and Canadian Natural Resources to step up to put in vaccine mandates.

Read more: Alberta oil company requires workers be fully vaccinated or rapid test negative for COVID-19

Colley-Urquhart, a trained nurse for five decades, agreed that in the absence of leadership from provincial health authorities, the city and council should step in to buttress public health measures.

But she believes city council should take a different approach to rising numbers: reinstating a state of local emergency.

“It would allow CEMA and the mayor to hold daily briefings,” Colley-Urquhart told Global News.

Read more: Vaccine passports: Alberta’s MyHealth Records could be ‘a challenge,’ experts say

Calgary rescinded its state of local emergency on June 14, and then rescinded its mask policy three weeks later.

A month after that, the province started notching more than a thousand new cases a day for subsequent days.

Read more: Calgary Flames, Stampeders, Hitmen fans & staff must be fully vaccinated to attend games

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A state of local emergency only requires two members of council to sign the order. The previous state of local emergency lasted 15 months and allowed the city to more rapidly address how the pandemic could affect city operations.

Colley-Urquhart also has concerns about enforcement of a reinstated mask bylaw or a vaccine mandate.

“The police don’t have that authority anymore,” the Ward 13 representative said.

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On Aug. 20, acting city manager Michael Thompson said he is monitoring infection rates and provincial guidance, ready to update plans to keep city employees safe. He also said a plan is in the works for mandatory rapid testing of employees who are not fully vaccinated.

A mask bylaw or vaccine mandate could also be considered at the next regular meeting of council, scheduled for Sep. 13.

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Read more: Calgary schools prepare for 2 elections amid 4th COVID-19 wave

Global News reached out to all Calgary councillors for comment on this story. Ward Sutherland, Joe Magliocca, Sean Chu, Jeff Davison and Peter Demong did not respond by publication time.

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