Mayor, councillors urge Ottawa police to revisit COVID-19 vaccination policy
OTTAWA -- Mayor Jim Watson is calling on the Ottawa Police Service to 'revisit' their COVID-19 vaccination policy that allows unvaccinated officers to stay on the job.
The policy, released to all officers and civilians last Friday, doesn't make COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for employees to report to work. Instead, unvaccinated members must provide a negative COVID-19 test result every 72 hours.
"I don't support what the Ottawa police have done. They are an independent organization and have their own board, but I think we all have to practise what we preach," said Watson after Wednesday's council meeting. "We are out there telling people to get double vaccinated, or they risk losing their jobs at the city of Ottawa. It’s not a frivolous thing that we are engaged in, it is a serious matter.
"Police come in contact with dozens of people every single day and for the life of me I can’t understand why they wouldn’t follow the same rules that other public servants in Ottawa, quite frankly throughout the country are following."
Despite strong opposition to the policy from the mayor and some councillors, Ottawa police are standing by the policy.
"Our goal is to have our members 100 per cent vaccinated, but this is a policy that recognizes that there are some members who are vaccine hesitant," said Acting Deputy Chief Trish Ferguson.
"With limited resources, we want to make sure that we are able to provide the community with safe measures and to continue to protect our own people since we have since the beginning of the pandemic.”
As of last Friday, 83 per cent of police employees had said they were fully vaccinated. Ferguson says police are still collecting data on the vaccination status of all employees.
"With us putting down a policy that vaccines are mandated and a deadline, without opportunity for our members to rectify this, there is the possibility we could be facing not having enough cars on the road responding to calls. We don’t want to put the community in jeopardy," said Ferguson.
"We are an emergency service, we need to ensure that we have an adequate number of officers on the road at a given time.”
Police will pay for the cost of the COVID-19 test if a member goes to a designated location. If a member goes elsewhere, they will need to pay for the test out of pocket.
Ferguson insists taxpayers will not be on the hook for additional funding to pay for the tests.
"We will work within budget envelope for this."
Opposition is mounting for police to revisit the policy.
Chair of the Ottawa Board of Health Keith Egli says, "It is my understanding that OPH did not recommend this path forward. This needs to be looked at again…. Not only for the general public but for police officers themselves, they are both at risk."
Councillor Tim Tierney has submitted at inquiry with the Police Services Board.
“Vaccines are free, tests are not, and quite frankly taxpayers are livid at this possibility," said Tierney. "The only thing that is going to fix this is everyone getting vaccinated like the other 14,000 employees of the city of Ottawa."
Ottawa Police Services Board Chair Diane Deans said on Twitter that "100 per cent of officers should be fully vaccinated", adding the board cannot direct this policy under the Police Services Act.
Police say they did have conversations with Ottawa Public Health about the vaccination policy but ultimately take guidelines from the province and the Police Services Act.
Ferguson says, "We have had conversations with OPH, but we follow provincial guidelines, and the Police Service Act… we feel the course we have chosen in a successful one."
Police say the policy is in place until at least Jan. 31.
"As we have seen with the pandemic in general, things have changed. And we have be able to adjust as we go on, and I think this policy is no different," said Ferguson. "We have set a date of Jan. 31 but should conditions change provincially or locally we will be adjusting and making sure we are maintaining that level of safety for the community.”