As COVID-19 restrictions continue to vanish across Canada, the Windsor Police Service (WPS) is maintaining its vaccine mandate for employees with no end in sight for the policy.
Under two per cent of the workforce — or between 10 and 12 employees of the 676 — continue to be on unpaid leave because they’re either unvaccinated or did not disclose their vaccination status.
Some of those employees were not actively working prior to the policy taking effect.
The Police Association of Ontario told CBC News that Windsor and Stratford Police Services are the only two in the province with a vaccine mandate still in effect.
Mayor Drew Dilkens, also Windsor’s police board chair, said the WPS policy “may never be rescinded.”
“I think it’s fair to say that we’re still in the pandemic. We’re not out of it yet and I know that there are employees [who] are comforted by the fact that their colleagues that they are working with are fully vaccinated,” said Dilkens. “It’s not a linear issue just to remove it to get 10 or 12 people back to work. You have to think of the employees who did get vaccinated, who are working, who have a level of comfort working next to people who are vaccinated in the workplace.”
The Windsor Police Association (WPA) said it’s “discouraged” by the mayor’s comments.
President Shawn McCurdy dismisses the notion this isn’t a big issue because it involves a small number of employees.
“As you look at the policing world, any member that we can have that would be at work would assist us providing service. If we average 12 individuals, that’s a number of people we could have working,” said McCurdy.
But Dilkens said operations aren’t being affected due to the people who are off.
Police operations ‘not largely impacted’
The WPS said in an email the four unvaccinated staff members off on unpaid leave “has not largely impacted the level of service to the community.”
“We are observing the guidance provided by the [Windsor-Essex County Health Unit] and looking continuously at how that guidance will impact our operations, most importantly the delivery of service to our community,” according to a statement from the police service.
The WECHU told CBC News in an email that it “continues to recommend that all organizations implement vaccination policies to prevent the further spread of COVID-19.”
But it wouldn’t say why a mandate is still recommended as different levels of government have removed nearly all COVID-19 restrictions.
For those who are off work, McCurdy said, it’s had a “profound impact on them.”
“If you’re not being paid and you have bills to pay, I can imagine it’s extremely stressful and puts a lot of duress on them.”
Arbitrator to hear vaccine mandate dispute
Soon after the Windsor Police Services Board created a vaccine directive for all employees in November, the association filed a grievance for the workers affected.
The case is heading to arbitration next month.
From the beginning, the WPA has said the vaccine directive was “unreasonable” because many other police services allowed unvaccinated employees to remain working if they agreed to regular testing.
Now, since the vast majority of local, provincial and federal restrictions have been lifted, McCurdy said that’s more reason to rescind the policy.
Starting Monday, the federal government is no longer requiring people to be fully vaccinated to travel by air in Canada.
Ottawa is also lifting vaccination requirements for federally regulated workers, allowing airline and airport employees on unpaid leave because of their vaccination status to return to work.
“What may have been determined reasonable at the height of COVID may be unreasonable now,” said McCurdy. “You look at the environment in the COVID world and everything is open. There are no real mandates in place [or] restrictions.”
Earlier this month, the Toronto Police Service ended its vaccine mandate and 101 employees will be returning to their roles next week.
Police said they decided to end the vaccine mandate because of the current state of the pandemic, the easing of public health measures and the unique nature of its workplaces.
Mandate leaves ‘vital 1st responders at home’
However, Toronto police said new hires are expected to be vaccinated.
The Police Association of Ontario said it’s “irresponsible” for chiefs and boards to maintain vaccine mandates, “leaving vital first responders at home.”
“We are in the midst of a staffing crisis in Ontario, yet we have able and willing members at home that could be working and protecting their community. What was once a reasonable policy is no longer reasonable in the current environment,” said president Mark Baxter.
The Windsor police COVID-19 vaccine mandate is reviewed by the board every 13 weeks. Dilkens said they examine “many inputs,” including guidance from the local medical officer of health and what other police services are doing.
“You may see a change, you may not. It’s too early to tell,” the mayor said.
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