Newmarket council urged respectful dialogue as it approved a new policy requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for staff.
The policy will require all 725 of the town staff to provide proof of vaccination for a first dose by Oct. 1 and a second dose by Nov. 1. Those not granted an exemption who fail to vaccinate could face dismissal. The policy was approved by the committee of the whole Sept. 13.
Councillor Grace Simon said vaccinations are a divisive issue, and it was not an easy decision for her to get the vaccine. She voted in favour of the policy but said she feels for staff impacted.
“I don’t know how many employees will be affected by this decision today, but we know for certain there will be, and they will be in a position that they have to go against everything they believe in,” Simon said. “Tolerance and respect goes a long way. Whether you are vaccinated or unvaccinated, you are welcome at my table.”
The policy allows for exemptions under the Human Rights Code, but staff specified that philosophical differences relative to vaccination are not grounds for an exemption.
Mayor John Taylor said it is important to keep civil in the conversation.
“Whether you’re pro-vaccine or not, the one thing I think we should always strive for, particularly on social media, is respectful dialogue,” Taylor said. “Many of the people you’re talking with have children, and those children sometimes read the comments."
Taylor said the policy is drafted to be as close as possible to similar documents in the City of Toronto and York Region, out of a desire for consistency and to help in case of court challenges.
“If there are eventual court challenges, we can learn from those who will be challenged first, or we can share in that process, saving taxpayer dollars,” Taylor said.
The mayor also asked for a resolution for staff to prepare a similar mandatory vaccination policy for councillors, which was made and passed. The staff policy does not cover councillors, but Taylor said they should be subject to such rules, too.
“It’s incumbent upon us to develop policy and pass it for ourselves, so we treat ourselves the same as we are treating staff.”
Staff is also preparing a policy about requiring vaccinations for town facilities access.
Taylor said council does not cherish putting in place a staff vaccination policy, but it is important to get vaccination rates up and help avoid more lockdowns.
“I don’t think I can bear seeing small businesses close again,” he said.