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Fully vaccinated Toronto council supports forcing city staff to get protected from COVID-19
Aug. 23, 2021
David Rider

Toronto city council is fully vaccinated and strongly supports forcing more than 37,000 city staff to join them in becoming protected against COVID-19 and its virulent Delta variant.

Council members differ, however, on the unsettled question of whether members of the public should be forced to show vaccination proof to attend city meetings or use city facilities such as recreation centres.

The Star surveyed Mayor John Tory and the 25 council members. All of them, or a staff member, confirmed the 26 politicians have received both doses of the vaccine as recommended by Toronto Public Health.

Council’s unified embrace of immunization avoids the dilemma faced by Premier Doug Ford, who has been urging all Ontarians to get their shots while two of his own caucus members remain unvaccinated.

Ford expelled one MPP from caucus for refusing to be immunized and granted another a reprieve due to an undisclosed medical condition.

The Ontario government is mandating vaccinations for provincial civil servants but allowing those not immunized to instead undergo regular COVID-19 tests.

Tory on Thursday took a tougher stance, saying all city staff must be fully vaccinated by Oct. 30 unless they qualify for exemption under Ontario’s human rights code -- with no testing alternative to the needle.

Based on a mix of emailed answers and interviews Thursday and Friday, Toronto council harbours no pockets of vaccine resistance.

While the city policy doesn’t apply to councillors -- who technically aren’t employees of the city and don’t answer to the city manager -- all who responded said they should lead by example.

“If you work for the city, you should be required to be fully vaccinated, full stop,” said Coun. Joe Cressy (Ward 10 Spadina--Fort York), chair of Toronto Public Health.

He said that, barring a legitimate medical exemption: “You should be required to be vaccinated because that’s how we protect everyone” from COVID-19 amid exponentially rising Delta variant infections.

Coun. Frances Nunziata (Ward 5 York South--Weston) supports the city’s stance on mandatory vaccination for Toronto employees to help limit COVID-19 spread and make city spaces as safe as possible.

“The health and safety of staff, residents, and visitors to City of Toronto facilities remains a top priority,” she said.

But among those who answered a question on whether members of the public should also be forced to show proof of vaccination to attend city meetings, or other city facilities, there was strong disagreement.

“The public should not be required to be vaccinated to attend a public meeting in-person,” said Coun. Doug Holyday (Ward 2 Etobicoke Centre).

City council has said people being able to address city committees remotely -- currently the only option while councillors meet virtually -- will continue after the pandemic when in-person deputations resume.

Coun. Nick Mantas (Ward 22 Scarborough-Agincourt) said unvaccinated people who want to say their piece in person should be forced to show a negative COVID-19 test no more than 72 hours old.

Coun. Josh Matlow (Ward 12 Toronto--St. Paul’s) argued that not only should unvaccinated Torontonians not be allowed to address committees in person, they shouldn’t be allowed to work out in city recreation centres or visit other public facilities.

“The vast majority of people have a choice whether or not they’ll be vaccinated -- if you choose not to, you have to be prepared to forfeit certain privileges in our society,” Matlow said, noting the option to participate in city meetings online.

“If you’re going to be in person, breathing in that room, then I think it’s entirely reasonable that, in the context of a global pandemic, we insist that you’re vaccinated.”

Cressy, who is helping guide the city’s pandemic response as public health chair, has not made up his mind on vaccine mandates for the public who interact with public service members.

“There are a lot of people who interface with the city -- riding the TTC, paying a parking ticket, getting a marriage licence, making a deputation to a city committee,” he said.

“It’s a really good question, I want more guidance from our public health experts on that.”

Councillors were also asked when they want to resume in-person meetings, after rising infection risk forced all city meetings online.

Most said that as soon as Toronto Public Health deems in-person meetings safe, traditional gatherings should replace the online meetings plagued by technical glitches and accidentally unmuted speakers.

Nunziata, the city council speaker, said she expects that to happen for the next council meeting slated for Oct. 1.

Coun. Brad Bradford (Ward 19 Beaches-East York) said: “It’ll be great to get back together in person but we need to make sure we keep including these new ways of including public participation and bringing people together virtually.”

Coun. Jennifer McKelvie, whose Ward 25 Scarborough-Rouge Park sits on Toronto’s eastern edge, is fine with meeting online.

“We are functioning well in a virtual setting, and I do not miss the long commute downtown,” she said.

“I am in no rush to resume in-person meetings.”