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Prince Albert
Friday, April 19, 2024
Home City Council Council votes reluctantly to follow province’s lead in removing mandatory mask and vaccination orders

Council votes reluctantly to follow province’s lead in removing mandatory mask and vaccination orders

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Council votes reluctantly to follow province’s lead in removing mandatory mask and vaccination orders
Prince Albert City Hall. Herald File Photo

Prince Albert city council voted by a 7-2 margin on Friday to remove mandatory mask and vaccination guidelines at the same time as the provincial government.

The move means members of the public will not have to provide proof of vaccination or proof of a negative test to enter city-owned facilities as of Monday. It also means masks will no longer be required at indoor or outdoor civic facilities, including city transit, once the province’s mask mandate expires at the end of February.

City employees will also no longer have to provide proof of vaccination or a negative test.

Many councillors members expressed reluctance to remove the municipal health orders, but said the City would face legal action if it didn’t.

“I don’t think there’s any way around it,” Coun. Don Cody said after moving the motion on Friday. “I worry about the liability that there’d be, and I just don’t want the City to have to put up with that.”

“I feel today that I have handcuffs on me, and I have no other choice to do this,” Coun. Charlene Miller added.

Cody acknowledged that the City had gone above and beyond the provincial mandate with their own restrictions in previous months. He said those mandates were necessary at the time to protect residents from harm, but after reviewing the City’s legal standing, didn’t think there was much hope in winning a court case without a provincial mandate.

Cody added that he wasn’t worried about residents who were ant-vax or anti-mandate.

“They’re a very, very small group of people who I think are doing things that they probably, later on in history, will be upset with themselves that they did,” Cody said during the meeting. “Having said that, I will … move the motion, reluctantly.”

Mayor Greg Dionne echoed Cody’s concerns. He said it was a tough decision, especially with a small but vocal group of anti-mandate residents who “know how to push the media’s buttons (and) know how to push everyone.”

However, he said the City would probably face a lawsuit if they kept the restrictions in place.

“I really struggle with it, but I know we could never win a liability case,” he said. “I know we would will be targeted because we will be one of the only ones (cities) in the province who keep any restrictions if we do.”

Coun. Dawn Kilmer seconded the motion during the meeting. She told council she made the decision with a heavy heart, but recognized that the City’s hands were tied.

She urged residents to keep doing things that prevents COVID from spreading, since the virus is still active in the province.

“The battle is still there,” Kilmer said. “We are not leaving people to their own demise. I feel very confident that one thing PA is, is full of people who are willing to do the right thing for their neighbours and their community, and will continue to do what’s right for each other.”

Coun. Terra Lennox-Zepp was one of two councillors to vote against the motion. Lennox-Zepp said there is no evidence the City would face a lawsuit if they didn’t follow the province’s lead.

In a recent CBC story, a Regina labour lawyer argued that nothing in the province’s human rights code prevents businesses from demanding proof of vaccination. Lennox-Zepp pointed to that article as proof that council should seek a second opinion on whether they were liable.

“How much of a risk of liability is there if we as a City continued holding these same restrictions when the province did not? I don’t think we know that yet,” she said during the meeting. “How likely would a successful legal action be if we were to continue these restrictions? I don’t think we know that yet either.”

Lennox-Zepp said the City should consult Prince Albert Medical Health Officer Dr. Khami Chokani before making a decision. Until that happens, she wasn’t comfortable removing the restrictions.

“It’s concerning,” she said. “I do not like the idea of making this decision without more to that question of that. How much risk would there be here. There are lawyers in Saskatchewan saying, ‘look, there are options here that businesses and organizations can continue to implement restrictions.’”