Federal public servants who aren’t fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and don’t obtain medical exemptions will be forced to take unpaid leave, in accordance with the requirements of a new vaccine mandate Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will unveil Wednesday, sources say.
Mr. Trudeau will also announce when a vaccine mandate will take effect for travellers on domestic flights, interprovincial trains and cruise ships, sources with knowledge of the Prime Minister’s plans told The Globe and Mail. One source said the mandates will come into force soon, and that public servants who are working from home will not be exempt from them.
The governing Liberals first proposed the vaccine mandates just two days before Mr. Trudeau triggered a snap election in August. In addition to federal civil servants and some domestic travellers, the new rules will also apply to employees in federally regulated industries.
The government’s rules for civil servants will allow exemptions for medical and religious reasons, according to one source, who said the government had to grant the latter exemption to keep the vaccine requirements in line with the Charter.
The Globe is not identifying the sources because they were not permitted to discuss the mandates prior to Mr. Trudeau’s announcement. The Prime Minister will release the details of the long-awaited plan alongside Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland at a press conference in Ottawa.
Throughout the election campaign, the Liberals said there would be consequences for government workers who refused to be vaccinated, but didn’t say what those consequences would be. According to the government’s website, as of 2020 there were 300,450 federal public servants.
On the campaign trail, the New Democrats supported vaccine mandates and said civil servants who refuse vaccination should face discipline, including the possibility of being fired. The Conservatives rejected the Liberal proposal and said civil servants and travellers who are subject to the vaccine mandates should have the right to present negative COVID-19 test results instead of getting vaccinated.
The Liberal government originally had a policy similar to the Conservative position, according to an online document published by the civil service on Aug. 13. At the time, the government said people who refuse vaccination would be offered alternatives “such as testing and screening.” After the Conservatives pointed this out during the campaign, the federal public service said the memo was wrong, and it was deleted.
On Sept. 28, during his first news conference after the election, Mr. Trudeau said implementing the vaccine mandates would be a top priority for his government, and that people wishing to travel by air across Canada had just weeks to get fully vaccinated. The new rules will apply to people who are 12 and older, and therefore eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccines approved by Health Canada.
According to COVID-19 Tracker Canada, 82 per cent of eligible Canadians are fully vaccinated and 88 per cent have received at least one shot.
One source said unions representing federal employees and federally regulated sectors were shown the vaccine policy late on Friday and were given until 4 p.m. on Monday to provide feedback. Unions were previously asked for feedback on what the mandate should look like after it was first announced in August.
The Public Service Alliance of Canada, which represents 215,000 workers, including many in the federal government and at crown corporations, said on Tuesday it has “real concerns about how unvaccinated members will be put on unpaid leave, and how vaccination records will be stored.”
“We absolutely support a vaccination policy for federal public service workers to protect the health and safety of our members and the Canadians they serve, but there was no meaningful consultation with unions on a policy that will actually work,” national president Chris Aylward said in a statement to The Globe.
In August, Mr. Aylward said discipline and termination were “unacceptable” options for enforcing a vaccine mandate. He said the union believed that employees who were unvaccinated for medical reasons or for reasons protected by human rights legislation “must be offered a formal accommodation.” For example, the option to work remotely.
The Liberals’ decision in August to announce the vaccine mandates marked a significant change in policy by Mr. Trudeau, who for most of the pandemic had raised concerns about the fairness of vaccination requirements.
“When it comes to distinguishing people who have been vaccinated and others who have not within our own country, there are questions of fairness and justice that come into play,” Mr. Trudeau said in March. “The idea of certificates of vaccination for domestic use to decide who can go to a concert, or who can go to a particular restaurant or engage in certain activities does bring in questions of equity, questions of fairness,” he said.