Ottawa lifts COVID-19 vaccine mandate for federal, transport workers

The federal government is lifting the COVID-19 vaccine requirements for federal public servants and transportation workers, on the same day it released details about dropping the mandate for domestic and outgoing travel.

Treasury Board President Mona Fortier announced the change would come into effect on June 20.

Fortier added that employees currently on administrative leave without pay as a result of the vaccination policy will be contacted by their managers to resume their duties.

The government also expects vaccine requirements put in place by separate agencies, including Crown corporations, will be suspended. Workers on cruise ships will still be required to be fully vaccinated. The government continues to warn that COVID-19 can spread easily between people in close quarters, such as on cruise ships.

The “Policy on COVID-19 Vaccination for the Core Public Administration including the RCMP” was introduced on Oct. 6, 2021. The Treasury Board started a review six months after the implementation of the guidelines, in accordance with the policy.

According to a government website, 98.5 per cent of the federal public service is fully vaccinated, 0.3 per cent is partially vaccinated, another 0.3 per cent reports being unvaccinated and 0.9 per cent have made accommodation requests.

Accommodations are made on the basis of a medical condition, religion, or another prohibited ground of discrimination as defined under the Canadian Human Rights Act.

At the same time, Ottawa also required federally-regulated transportation employers to impose vaccine mandate among their employees. That included rail, cruise, and airline staff.

No domestic vaccine policy was imposed on truckers, however, cross-border travel restrictions did apply starting in January.

The decision caused major backlash among trucking groups and trade associations that argued the rule would add to supply chain hurdles already heightened from the pandemic.

It later inspired the “Freedom Convoy” protests that occupied downtown Ottawa for several weeks and blocked major points of entry.

Asked whether the announcement impacts this group, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra, who was also present at the press conference, said the mandatory quarantine and testing rules at the border for those who are unvaccinated continues to be an important tool against importation of the virus.

“We're seeing an equivalent measure at the U.S. border. So we know that this is reciprocal measure that the U.S. expects of truckers who are crossing the borders and Canada has the same reciprocal measures,” he said.

Intergovernmental Affairs Minster Dominic LeBlanc and Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos, meanwhile, underscored that the government won’t be reluctant to re-impose the mandates should it be necessary from a public health standpoint.

Fortier added that includes suspending federal workers without pay, again, should a mandate policy be reintroduced.

The Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) -- one of Canada's largest national labour unions -- said while it welcome the news, they group is taking issue with the fact that they weren’t consulted prior.

“Unfortunately, the federal government did not consult with PSAC before making its decision to lift its vaccination policy. Unions should always be consulted on policies that have a major impact on the terms and conditions of employment of our members to protect their health and safety and their rights in the workplace,” a statement reads.

The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC) also stated the changes hadn’t been communicated prior to Tuesday’s announcement.

“Unfortunately, this information was shared with Jennifer Carr, President of The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC) through the media before the employer informed us of the change. We, together with other unions, have been asking for an update for weeks. We have informed the Treasury Board of our disappointment and hope that collaboration will be a priority moving forward,” reads the union’s statement.

Earlier this year, both PSAC and PIPSC launched grievances against the policy.

As of May 30, the government reports 2,108 federal employees -- or less than two per cent of staff -- were on administrative leave without pay as a result of declining to disclose their vaccination status, or being unwilling to get vaccinated with two doses.

Of the 993 approved accommodation requests, 642 were made on the basis of religious reasons, 310 were made on the basis of medical reasons and 41 were granted for “other reasons.”