EXPLAINER: What is West Lincoln’s current vaccination policy? | Panda Anku

West Lincoln issued its COVID-19 vaccination policy on September 13, 2021.

After a protest by the mayor at a West Lincoln community event, many were left with questions about the community’s current vaccination policy.

On August 8, Mayor Dave Bylsma led the outdoor protests during the 13 For 13 cultural festival at the West Lincoln Community Center after being told he would not be able to give an opening address in the arena.

Due to the community’s COVID-19 vaccination policy, the mayor, who described himself as “unvaccinated” but had not disclosed his vaccination status to the community, was not allowed to perform official duties in the arena.

Through emails to Niagara This Week and comments on social media, readers wanted to know more about current politics and what other council members thought.

THE POLICY

On September 13, 2021, the community enacted its COVID-19 immunization policy, developed with legal input from the Emergency Operation Center (EOC) and the community’s COVID-19 Recovery Table (CRT).

The EOC is not affiliated with the municipality’s COVID-19 state of emergency, which has been in effect since April 3, 2020. This order was lifted on March 15, 2022, but the EOC can meet at any time.

The policy established immunization requirements for staff, volunteers, councillors, board members and committee members, all of whom must be fully vaccinated to attend in-person council or committee meetings, conduct community business on community property or facilities, or attend official indoor events in the capacity as a council member.

The policy includes exceptions for medical and religious reasons.

The municipality justified the policy on health and safety grounds with compliance with the province’s Occupational Safety and Health Act, which requires employers to provide a safe workplace.

“Full vaccination has been shown to be effective in reducing transmission of COVID-19 and protecting vaccinated individuals from serious outcomes from COVID-19 and related variants,” the community said in a written statement this week.

According to the municipality, 100 percent of the employees complied with the guideline.

THE IMPLICATIONS

Because those who are unvaccinated are unable to attend in-person meetings, any council member, including the mayor, can attend council and committee meetings via video conference if necessary.

The municipality said it is providing housing for the mayor to ensure he can carry out his duties.

“Along with many lodgings, this includes provisions for him to come into the office when no staff are present, sign bylaws, etc.,” the municipality’s statement said.

In a speech ahead of the 13 For 13 event, which was posted to Twitter, Bylsma said he signed the bylaws on the hood of his car. When asked to elaborate on his comments from Niagara This Week, he declined to comment.

HOW WOULD IT BE CANCELED?

The policy is administrative, not political, so councilors cannot cancel the policy.

Instead, all changes would come from the EOC and CRT.

The municipality said that if and when it decides to rescind the policy, it will do so after a thorough process.

“It is not usual for the community to change its policy at short notice without full consideration, and certainly not in response to a threat or an ultimatum,” the statement said.

RESPONSE OF THE RATER

Councilor Shelley Bradaric said she has challenged the vaccination mandate through emails with the community’s chief administrative officer and in discussions at the council.

However, she added that she understands she does not have all the information or expertise and acknowledged that the EOC is working with Niagara Public Health to guide the decisions.

Councilor William Reilly looks forward to a point at which the policy may be amended or repealed.

“Just like everyone else, I’m sick of all the division and hate this pandemic has caused,” he said. “I’m eagerly waiting for the good old days to return, and hopefully sooner rather than later.”

Councilor Jason Trombetta said if the policy were to be reversed he would support it.

Before that happens, however, Councilwoman Cheryl Ganann said it must be complied with. Ganann is running against Bylsma for mayor in October’s local elections.

“I, too, look forward to the day when these policies are no longer necessary, but I believe that as duly elected members of West Lincoln Council, we do not have a choice about what policies we want to pursue,” she said.

Councilors Mike Rehner and Harold Jonker did not respond to a request for comment.

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