CANADA Vaccination mandate for Windsor, Ontario police 'can never be...

Vaccination mandate for Windsor, Ontario police ‘can never be rescinded’, mayor says

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Over 98% of Windsor Police officers are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. For those who do not, they continue to be on unpaid leave. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)

As COVID-19 restrictions continue to fade across Canada, the Windsor Police Service (WPS) maintains its mandate to vaccinate employees and there is no end in sight to this policy.

Less than two percent of the workforce — or 10 to 12 employees out of 676 — continue to be on unpaid leave because they are either not vaccinated or have not disclosed their vaccination status.

Some of these employees were not active before the policy went into effect.

The Ontario Police Association told CBC News that the Windsor and Stratford Police Services are the only two in the province that still have a vaccination mandate.

Mayor Drew Dilkens, also Chairman of the Windsor Police Board, said the WPS policy “can never be repealed”.

“I think it is fair to say that we are still in a pandemic. We haven’t left it yet and I know there are employees [who] they take comfort in the fact that their colleagues they work with are fully vaccinated,” Dilkens said. “It’s not a linear issue, just remove it to get 10 or 12 people back to work. You have to think about employees who have been vaccinated, who are working, who are comfortable working around people who have been vaccinated in the workplace.”

Mayor Drew Dilkens, also chairman of the Windsor Police Services Board, says of the end of any vaccination mandates: “You have to think about employees who have been vaccinated, who are working, who are comfortable working around people who are being vaccinated in the workplace.” (Dale Molnar/CBC)

The Windsor Police Association (WPA) said it was “disappointed” by the mayor’s comments.

President Sean McCurdy dismisses the notion that it’s not such a big deal because it involves a small number of employees.

“If you look at the police world, any employee that we can have who will work will help us provide services. If we average 12 people, that’s the number of people we could have at work,” McCurdy said.

But Dilkens said the operations weren’t affected by the lack of people.

Police operations ‘didn’t hit hard’

The WPS email said the four unvaccinated employees who went on unpaid leave “didn’t make much of an impact on the level of community service.”

“We follow the directions given [Windsor-Essex County Health Unit] and are constantly monitoring how this guidance will impact our operations, especially the delivery of services to our community,” the police service said in a statement.

WECHU told CBC News via email that it “continues to encourage all organizations to implement vaccination policies to prevent further spread of COVID-19.”

But it does not say why the mandate is still recommended, as governments at various levels have lifted nearly all COVID-19-related restrictions.

For those who don’t work, McCurdy said it had a “profound impact.”

Sean McCurdy, president of the Windsor Police Association, said the board’s decision to keep the vaccination mandate “unreasonable”. (Jason Vio / CBC)

“If you’re not getting paid and you have bills to pay, I can imagine it’s extremely stressful and puts a lot of pressure on them.”

Arbitrator to hear vaccine mandate dispute

Shortly after the Windsor Police Services Board issued a vaccination directive for all employees in November, the association filed a complaint against affected workers.

The case goes to arbitration next month.

From the outset, the WPA said the vaccine directive was “unreasonable” because many other police services allowed unvaccinated officers to continue working as long as they agreed to be tested regularly.

Now that the vast majority of local, provincial and federal restrictions have been lifted, McCurdy said that’s another reason to cancel the policy.

As of Monday, the federal government is no longer requiring people to be fully vaccinated for air travel in Canada.

Ottawa is also waiving vaccination requirements for federally regulated workers, allowing airline and airport employees who are on unpaid leave due to their vaccination status to return to work.

“What might have been considered reasonable in the midst of the COVID pandemic may now be unreasonable,” McCurdy said. “You look at the environment in a COVID world and everything is open. There are no real mandates. [or] restrictions.”

Earlier this month, the Toronto Police Service ended its vaccination mandate and 101 officers will return to duty next week.

The Toronto Police Service has terminated the vaccination mandate, allowing approximately 100 officers to return to work. (Ewan Mitsui/CBC)

Police said they have decided to cancel the vaccination mandate due to the current state of the pandemic, the easing of public health measures and the unique nature of jobs.

Mandate leaves ‘vital lifeguards at home’

However, Toronto Police have said that new employees must be vaccinated.

The Ontario Police Association said it was “irresponsible” for leaders and councils to support vaccination mandates by “leaving vital first responders at home.”

“We are in the midst of a talent crisis in Ontario, but we have able and willing members of the house who could work and protect their community. What was once a prudent policy is no longer prudent in the current environment,” said President Mark. Baxter.

Windsor Police’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate is reviewed by the council every 13 weeks. Dilkens said they are looking into “a lot of stuff,” including recommendations from a local health worker and what other police services are doing.

“You may see changes, or you may not. It’s too early to tell,” the mayor said.

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