Proof of vaccination policies varied across the Thompson-Okanagan

Vax policy mixed bag

Proof of vaccination policies with local governments across the Thompson-Okanagan are a mixed bag.

Vernon, Kelowna and Kamloops' policies do not extend to council, but do mandate COVID vaccines for all staff and employees.

In Penticton, its policy includes council members, as does the First Nation Splatsin government near Enderby.

The Columbia Shuswap Regional District also includes directors in its mandate.

The North Okanagan Regional District, meanwhile, has thus far not issued any statements on vaccine policy within that organization.

"The proof of vaccination policy is a policy of administration. It applies to everyone who reports to administration, which includes all municipal employees and city volunteers," says City of Vernon spokesperson Christy Poirier.

"Council does not report to administration and therefore is not included in the policy."

This comes as 11 candidates are vying for a seat on Vernon council in a Dec. 4 byelection, and at least two have made public anti-vaccine statements.

"Mandatory vaccination is illegal in Canada. How could I support that as a sitting council member? I believe in body autonomy. Your body, your choice," candidate Kevin Demers told Castanet.

Demers has also shared anti-mask and anti-vaccine posts on his personal Facebook page.

Candidate Art Gourley said: "I don't feel the need to make vaccinations mandatory. We don't know what they're shooting into us. I haven't taken the vaccine, and I won't. I don't like the idea of people losing their jobs if they don't take it."

Demers says he would like to see pandemic restrictions eased "to bring us back to a semblance of normal" and more needs to be done "to stop community division."

Gourley, meanwhile, said he feels the media is "overdoing the virus thing.... We should be able to make our own decision about wearing masks."

The City of Vernon announced its vaccine policy on Nov. 10.

It applies to all city employees and volunteers, including those on city committees, commissions, or task forces and comes into effect on Jan. 14.

Chief administrative officer Will Pearce said the city recognizes some employees cannot be vaccinated and will accommodate those who require an exemption.

If an employee chooses not to comply with the policy and is not entitled to accommodation, the city says it will review the circumstances and "implement appropriate actions to protect workplace health and safety" including unpaid leave and/or discipline up to and including termination.

In Kamloops, the vaccine mandate takes effect Dec. 15.

While it does not include council, it does extend to all employees, contractors and volunteers.

Meanwhile, Coun. Denis Walsh has opted to attend meetings via Zoom, as he is unvaccinated.

At the CSRD, chief administrative officer Charles Hamilton said: "If someone asks for an accommodation, we are looking to deal with them in good faith. We are not in the business of putting people on leave, but it is a balancing act as to how we best look after the health and safety of everyone."

Splatsin's policy covers all employees, contractors, volunteers and elected officials in response to below-average vaccination rates in the community and Enderby area – 62.5% and 67%, respectively.

Penticton's policy takes effect Jan. 4 and will include elected members of council as well as staff.

Kelowna's mandate takes effect Dec. 13.

"It's an administrative decision to require staff to be vaccinated, but it's something council and I support as another way we can limit the transmission of the virus among staff and the public," said Mayor Colin Basran.

While all council members have said they are vaxxed, the policy does not include them.

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