Canada’s largest municipal police force announced it will require all of its members to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, giving them until mid-September to prove their immunization status and sparking conflict with the officers’ association, which objects to a mandatory policy.
Toronto Police Service Chief James Ramer said in a statement on Tuesday that his force’s vaccine mandate, which will apply to both officers and civilian employees, aims “to protect each other and the communities we serve.”
“The Service has an obligation to ensure a safe workplace for TPS members and the public,” the statement said. “This is a primary commitment for the Service, as it has been throughout the pandemic.”
But Jon Reid, president of the Toronto Police Association, which represents officers, released a statement later in the day saying he “does not support this mandatory vaccination announcement or mandatory disclosure.”
It is unclear what will happen, under the new policy, to Toronto Police Service officers and civilian employees who are not vaccinated. A news release from the force said the policy will be “subject to the service’s duty to accommodate members pursuant to the Human Rights Code.” A TPS spokesperson said the “specifics of the policy are in development.” Some organizations have introduced vaccine mandates that allow unvaccinated employees to continue working, provided they submit to regular COVID-19 testing.
Since the start of the pandemic, TPS has recorded 438 COVID-19 cases, the service said, which accounts for roughly 5 per cent of its staff. Of those, 431 have recovered and returned to work. No TPS members have died from COVID-19.
“This announcement, however preliminary, is missing critical details that are central to understanding the impacts, timelines, or potentially alternative options available to our members,” Mr. Reid said in his statement. “This announcement has our full attention and TPA will be working closely with other impacted parties, unions, and associations to explore our collective options.”
Premier Doug Ford announced mandatory vaccination policies last week for workers in high-risk sectors such as health care and education, but he made no mention of police, despite the front-line nature of their work. The Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police (OACP) then wrote to the Ontario government seeking direction on the issue. As of Tuesday, OACP spokesperson Joe Couto said the association was still waiting for a response.
In the meantime, police forces and unions across Ontario are following the Toronto situation closely, while they await guidance from the province on vaccines.
Municipalities, businesses and postsecondary institutions across the country have been rolling out vaccination policies in recent weeks, as the Delta variant – the most contagious so far – propels Canada into a fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Earlier this month, federal officials said they intend to compel federally regulated employers, including the RCMP, to make vaccination a workplace requirement.
If Ontario opts not to mandate vaccines for police across the board, Mr. Couto said, it will fall on individual police forces and chiefs to decide whether to establish policies.
The OACP, he said, is looking at vaccine mandates from a human resources and legal perspective, and will provide police services with recommendations. “But then police chiefs and the OPP commissioner are going to have to make their own decisions, absent provincial direction.”
Last week, Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health Kieran Moore released what he called “bare minimum” vaccination policies for hospitals, community-care services and schools, and encouraged organizations in those sectors to tighten those policies as they see fit.
Under the policies, hospitals, as well as home-care and community-care services, must require employees, staff, contractors, students and volunteers to have proof of vaccination no later than Sept. 7, or agree to be tested at least once a week.
Meanwhile, no vaccine mandate is yet in place for elementary and secondary school students old enough to be eligible for immunization, though public-health units are partnering with school boards to make vaccines readily available to all students returning to school who were born in 2009 or earlier.
The Ontario government is expected to introduce a vaccination disclosure policy for teachers, but little is known of how the province’s school boards will keep track of staff who are not vaccinated. The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario called earlier this month for mandatory vaccination of school staff.
Dr. Moore said to reporters on Tuesday that he is hopeful that a combination of frequent testing and a highly immunized workforce will be effective at limiting spread in schools.
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