Mississippi Mills, Ont. councillor has pay suspended for breaching COVID-19 vaccination policy
Coun. Cynthia Guerard is one of the councillors in Mississippi Mills. (Mississippi Mills/website)
A Mississippi Mills, Ont. councillor has had her pay suspended for 90 days after breaching the municipality's COVID-19 vaccination policy by attending council meetings while refusing to disclose her vaccination status.
Integrity Commissioner Tony Fleming found Coun. Cynthia Guerard breached the corporate policy and the municipal code of conduct by attending two in-person council meetings in May without providing proof of vaccination. The municipality’s policy requires staff to provide proof of full vaccination against COVID-19.
A report for the Mississippi Mills council says the Integrity Commissioner's office received a complaint on May 12 with respect to Guerard’s conduct.
"The Complaint alleges that Councillor Guerard attended two council meetings in person while not in compliance with the Township's Policy HR-36, Mandatory Vaccination Policy," the report said.
"The Complaint alleges that the Member did not provide proof of vaccination and was therefore presumed unvaccinated. Nevertheless, she attended the May 3 and 17 Council meetings in person and, when asked to leave chambers on the 17th because she was unvaccinated, simply sat outside of the chambers and joined in remotely."
The Integrity Commissioner's report says the council meeting's minutes reflect that Guerard was advised that she was not in compliance with the policy.
"On the 17th, a point of privilege was raised with respect to the Member’s non-compliance with the Policy. The Chair ordered the Member to apologize, and when she failed to do so, expelled her from Council chambers," the report said. "The Member then proceeded to join the meeting via Zoom, while sitting in the hallway outside Council Chambers."
The Integrity Commissioner says Guerard, through her counsel, raised a number of "procedural objections" to the investigation, including that the municipality had no authority to maintain vaccination requirements, particularly after the Ontario government lifted its requirements, and that Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects personal privacy.
The Integrity Commissioner says, "It is clear that Councillors must be vaccinated – a point which the Member seemed to concede – and it is clear that employees must provide proof of vaccination status."
When the councillor was asked to confirm without providing any proof of vaccination whether she is vaccinated against COVID-19, the Integrity Commissioner said Guerard, "refused to answer."
The Integrity Commissioner ruled Guerard breached section 11 of the Code of Conduct by failing to comply with a Council policy that requires all members to be vaccinated, and section 30 by attempting to circumvent established policies.
"If the Member was vaccinated, simply confirming this may have been sufficient to conclude that she did not breach the Policy," the report states. "As she declined to do so, we must assume it is because she was not vaccinated, and her answer would have harmed her position."
The Integrity Commissioner recommended council suspend Guerard's pay for 90 days, the maximum penalty available, which council voted to approve.
"The Councillor has shown no respect for the policy and direction of Council and has failed to cooperate with the Integrity Commissioner in this investigation," Integrity Commissioner Fleming concluded. "While the Member’s actions during the investigation were conducted through counsel, the reasons for refusing to cooperate were found to have no basis in law and therefore do not justify the Member’s refusal to answer the question as to her vaccination status."
According to the municipality's policy, all council and municipal employees were required to be fully vaccinated with a Health Canada recognized COVID-19 vaccine by Nov. 30, 2021. Employees must provide proof of full vaccination to the municipality.
Mississippi Mills is located 50 km west of downtown Ottawa. The municipality includes Almonte, Pakenham, Appleton and Clayton.