Local Journalism Initiative
Members of the public and City of Prince Albert staff working at city facilities will be required to provide proof of full vaccination or a negative COVID test.
The new rules are effective Oct. 25 for staff, and Oct. 13 for the public.
The primary incentive for the policy was the request of the North Central Medical Officer of Health Dr. Khami Chokani, who asked council in September to adopt a policy stronger than the measures taken by the province.
“Doctor Chokani came to council with an extensive Power Point presentation about the risks and what is happening in our hospital and our community,” said Coun. Tara Lennox-Zepp, one of eight councillors who voted in favour of the policy. “He encouraged us as a City council to look at measures that were more than what the province was then – and now – implementing.”
Chokani had two goals, she said, and one was to save lives from preventable death.
“As City councillors, it is very persuasive to hear when the medical officer for our city asks you, will you help us save lives?” Lennox-Zepp said. “That’s pretty impactful.”
The second goal was to prevent collapse of the health care system in the city.
“That is something we also need to take very seriously. I want to state that I do find it very concerning that a municipality is even in this situation. This is something the provincial government has—the ability to create and consider further measures,” she said. “The province has not implemented these measures that we’re talking about and they’ve left us, city council, in a very difficult position of trying to do the right thing.”
Council included itself in the requirements but with no test option as all councillors must provide proof of vaccination to the City Clerk by the same deadline as staff.
Some members of staff through the CUPE union spoke out against portions of the policy, specifically the requirement to pay for their own tests on their own time and said the policy is not worded well.
“We are neither oblivious nor are we opposed to public safety,” union member Leslie Mourot-Bartley said. “We are opposed to turning decent people who are valuable long term employees into villains.”
“This policy is very poorly written. The purpose of the policy should be to keep the employees safe,” she added. “All of them. The fact is that there is a whole world of information. People have the right to make choices for themselves. I may be wrong but it seems that the purpose is to keep COVID out of the workplace.”
She proposed having the unvaccinated employees tested at work, but council did not modify the policy as presented by administration.
Coun. Blake Edwards questioned some of the misinformation that has been shown to lead to vaccine refusal or hesitancy.
“The numbers are skewed? For what reason would our health care professionals have to skew numbers?” he said. “What benefit does the government have to skew numbers? Shut down society for what? To make people lose their jobs? I don’t think so. It’s because there’s a virus out there and its making people sick.”
“If we can’t trust our health care experts in Canada who are encouraging us to do this, who can we trust?” he said.
Mayor Greg Dionne said he also supported the policy and is vaccinated despite being in a single-person household because he spends time with neighbours and wants to protect them. He said the policy is also needed because of the volume of deaths in Saskatchewan.
Dionne also echoed Lennox-Zepp’s statements that provincial failure to implement measures has left the city in a difficult position.
“The province of Saskatchewan should be announcing this province-wide,” Dionne said. “This is not a Prince Albert problem. This is a Saskatchewan problem.”
He said council is not infringing on anyone’s rights.
“You are infringing on my rights to be safe,” Dionne said. “We live in a democratic society and the majority rules. Not the minority. The majority of us have got vaccinated.”
Council also decided to send the province a “strongly worded” letter about the lack of province-wide steps being taken to slow the spread of the virus.
There are a few exception to areas of city facilities that will not be included in the proof of vaccine requirements, such as the foyer at City Hall, police headquarters or the airport and those who choose the test option will have to do so at their own expense.
Coun. Dennis Ogrodnick also discussed the issue of health care capacity.
“I think as a collective, as a society, we need to tackle the issue of this pandemic very seriously,” he said.
He also talked about the impact that re-direction of health resources to COVID patient care is having on everyone and said 200 surgeries are being cancelled daily in the province, including family members of his.
“This is a public health issue. It’s not political. It’s not strictly economic although it is costing money. This is a serious public health issue and that’s why we have to act,” Ogrodnick said.
Ogrodnick said he has heard from two faith groups that say there is no religious reason in scripture to refuse vaccination, including churches tied to the Pentecostal Assembly and the Catholic Church.
“There’s nothing in scripture that says you should not be vaccinated,” Ogrodnick said of religious exemptions. “The Catholic Church also says there is no religious exemptions that you should not be vaccinated. It’s a personal belief. It’s not a religious belief.”
All volunteers must be in compliance with the same requirements as the staff.
Members of the public hauling waste to the landfill will not be included in the policy as they are not allowed to enter the kiosk anyway and either stay in their vehicle or stand outside at the window.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated when the vaccination policy would come into effect for members of the public. The story has been updated with the correct date. The Daily Herald apologizes for the error.