Dan Fumano: Vancouver police will not require COVID-19 vaccinations, unlike other departments

Analysis: By allowing unvaccinated police officers to be considered fit for duty as long as they undergo testing, Vancouver Police Department's policy sets it apart from several other policing agencies.

Dan Fumano 5 minute read December 7, 2021

The Vancouver Police Board has opted not to require COVID-19 vaccines for officers, a policy decision that makes the department out of step with some other Canadian policing services.

Vancouver police are being encouraged to get immunized and provide proof by the end of December, but unvaccinated officers will still be considered “fit for duty” if they undergo rapid testing for COVID-19.

Other Canadian police departments have taken a different approach: last week, the Toronto Police Service placed 205 employees on unpaid leave for failing to provide proof of vaccination.

Asked about the policy, Vancouver Police Union president Ralph Kaisers said: “Rapid testing is the way we are going for non-vaccinated and/or non-disclosing members. We are under-resourced and need to keep as many people we can.”

The City of Vancouver announced its mandatory vaccine policy in mid-October, which applies to city employees, but not police. Monday was supposed to be the deadline by which time the city expected all employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, but city hall confirmed to Postmedia that the timeline has now been delayed until January.

The city announced its policy with a press release on Oct. 18, with city manager Paul Mochrie saying: “This mandatory vaccination policy will help provide a further level of protection against this virus for city staff and the public we serve.”

The policy did not apply to the Vancouver police; while the police department is funded by the city, its employer is the Vancouver Police Board. At that time, a VPD representative told Postmedia that the department was “working on our policy.”

The VPD’s vaccine policy was approved by the Vancouver Police Board last month, said board vice-chair Faye Wightman.

The policy states that unvaccinated VPD employees can continue to work, as long as they adhere to the “VPD Rapid Testing Protocol.”

“This protocol will require the employee to undertake regular COVID-19 rapid testing in order to be considered fit for duty,” the policy says, with testing costs to be covered by the employee.

VPD spokesman Sgt. Steve Addison said Monday: “We are actively encouraging all our members to get fully vaccinated if they have not done so already.”

“Our sworn and civilian staff have until Dec. 30 to declare that they are vaccinated. After that, anyone who has not declared their status will have to pay for their own rapid testing and will be required to undergo testing on a regular basis,” Addison said in an emailed response to questions. “It’s our expectation that all members will get vaccinated and will provide proof of vaccination.­”

By next month, the VPD will find out whether their expectation was correct, that all members will be vaccinated and provide proof.

But by not requiring immunizations, and considering unvaccinated police officers fit for duty if they undergo testing, the VPD’s policy sets it apart from several other policing agencies, including the RCMP, and municipal police departments such as Toronto and West Vancouver. B.C.’s newest municipal police department, the Surrey Police Service, introduced a vaccine mandate in October, noting that public health officials have “repeatedly affirmed vaccination as the most effective protection against COVID-19.”

Vancouver’s mandatory vaccine policy does, however, apply to the fire department. But after the city announced its vaccine mandate in October, the local firefighters’ union challenged it and reached a deal to allow unvaccinated members to work with a negative COVID test before each shift. Other unions representing city workers have also filed grievances over the vaccine mandate which are currently unresolved.

In an emailed statement Monday, Robert Weeks, president of the Vancouver firefighters Union, said: “We have consistently encouraged all firefighters that are able to get vaccinated to do so. Currently, we support the City’s policy that applies to us.”

“An overwhelming majority of our members have chosen to be vaccinated against COVID-19,” Weeks said. “From early on in the vaccine rollout, firefighters have advocated for priority vaccine access for first responders to keep our community safe and to ensure as firefighters we are ready to step up for Vancouver when they need us.”

Vancouver’s policy states that employees who do not comply — except for those who require an exemption for medical reasons, or other grounds protected under the B.C. Human Rights Code — will be placed on an unpaid leave of absence, and, “upon further review, may be subject to further employment consequences up to and including termination.”

Vancouver’s policy was supposed to come into effect on Dec. 6, 2021. But when contacted with questions about the new policy’s implementation, a city representative said the deadline has been postponed until Jan. 6, 2022.

“The City of Vancouver is responding to challenges submitted to the Labour Relations Board (LRB) by several of the City’s unions regarding mandatory vaccination implementation,” a city representative said in a written statement. “The LRB has recently issued decisions pertaining to other public sector employers that provide some guidance on the requirement for advance notice of policies that call for proof of vaccination. The city has reviewed those decisions and taken into consideration the LRB’s reasoning in adjusting our timeline.”

With a file from Glenda Luymes

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been modified to reflect updated information about the City of Vancouver vaccine mandate as it applies to firefighters and other workers. 





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