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Saanich joins CRD in requiring employees to be vaccinated for COVID-19

Municipality says its 1,800 employees must be fully vaccinated by Dec. 13
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The District of Saanich, the largest municipality in the region, is the first of Greater Victoria's 13 councils to announce a vaccine mandate. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

Saanich says its 1,800 employees must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Dec. 13.

The largest municipality in the region — with a workforce spanning administration, parks, public works, police and firefighters — is the first of Greater Victoria’s 13 councils to announce a vaccine mandate.

Saanich police spokesman Markus Anastasiades confirmed the department’s 185 officers and 60 staff are “aligned” on the mandate.

Saanich joins the Capital Regional District, which unveiled its own requirement for proof of vaccination against COVID-19 for workers and volunteers on Oct. 13. The CRD employs more than 1,100 staff delivering essential services like drinking water, waste management, social housing, regional parks and emergency management.

“Saanich is committed to the health and safety of its staff and the community,” Saanich chief administrative officer Paul Thorkelsson said Wednesday.

“This vaccine requirement will protect employees working across our municipal facilities as well as the community members we interact with.”

Thorkelsson said the requirement aligns with advice from the provincial health officer and similar policies implemented by other municipalities and large employers across the province.

Vancouver, Kelowna, Penticton and Kamloops have also issued mandatory vaccine requirements for city staff.

Saanich said although elected officials are not subject to the mandate because it’s “an employee policy,” Saanich Mayor Fred Hayes and all councillors have confirmed they are all vaccinated.

The CRD is requiring its employees to be fully vaccinated by Dec. 13.

Exceptions will be made for some employees with “legitimate medical reasons.”

In a statement, the CRD said refusing to comply with the proof of vaccination policy by the deadline may lead to “employment consequences, which could include cessation of employment.”

Saanich said it is still finalizing its policy on how to address an employee who doesn’t comply with the vaccine mandate.

“Failure to comply without a legitimate need for an accommodation under the B.C. Human Rights Code will mean that they can’t work and it may lead to employment consequences,” said a Saanich spokeswoman. The policy is expected to be finalized by mid-November, she said.

The City of Victoria has not issued a mandatory vaccine policy for its 900 employees, but a spokesman said the city has been “in close contact with the CRD and will be determining a way forward very soon.”

Colwood Mayor Rob Martin said the city hasn’t moved to mandatory vaccines for its employees. “Colwood fosters and maintains a healthy and safe workplace environment, including having regard to the risks posed by the pandemic,” said Martin. “The city is currently reviewing its workplace communicable disease prevention measures and assessing options.”

Health-care workers in the province are required to be fully vaccinated and the B.C. Public Service Agency will require its 30,000 employees to have a double dose by Nov. 22.

WorkSafe B.C. has a Nov. 1 deadline for its staff to have proof of vaccination.

The federal government has also announced vaccine requirements for all public servants, including Crown Corporations, as well as workers in the federally regulated air, rail and marine sectors.

In B.C., employers are not required to ensure that their workers are vaccinated, said WorkSafe B.C.

However, the agency said it has been advising businesses and other employers that they can implement staff vaccination policies “based on their own due diligence.”

WorkSafe B.C. said vaccination policies and how they are implemented in the workplace is “new legal territory” that raises potential employment law issues.

“Every workplace is different, so individual employers should seek legal advice when considering whether to develop a mandatory vaccination policy,” the agency said. “Employers need to address not only workplace health and safety and workers’ interests, but also consider labour and employment, human rights and privacy issues.”

dkloster@timescolonist.com