The City of Toronto announced on Wednesday that 461 employees have lost their jobs for missing the New Years’ deadline to disclose their vaccination status. Another 248 employees with one dose of the vaccine will be required to get their second shot or risk losing their job. A further 37 city employees who have applied for a medical exemption remain on temporary leave.
However, for other employees of the city and its boards and agencies, the rules vary.
Members of the Toronto Police Service, for example, who have refused to reveal their vaccination status will not be terminated or disciplined, and it looks like they will be able to return to their job.
Some 205 members of the force refused to comply with the order to disclose their status back in November and were placed on unpaid leave. Of those, 117 were sworn officers and 88 were from civilian ranks. A number of them have since disclosed their status, but as of December some 160 officers remain on unpaid leave.
Toronto police spokesperson Meaghan Gray says in an email response to questions from NOW that those officers will remain on unpaid leave “indefinitely.” And it looks like they will not face disciplinary action for refusing to abide by force policy.
The force announced back in late August that its members would be required to be vaccinated. But according to the Toronto police union, which publicly opposed both the mandatory vaccination policy and disclosure of vaccination status, the force’s initial announcement “was without any policy documentation, procedure or routine order in place.”
On November 30, Chief James Ramer announced in an update on the force’s requirement that officers who failed to comply would be placed on unpaid leave and able to return to work “when members are fully vaccinated and have disclosed their updated vaccination status.”
Ramer said then that the officers were being placed on unpaid leave “under the Toronto Police Services Board’s (TPSB) Occupational Health and Safety Policy.” That policy states, among other things, that “every member must actively participate in helping the Board meet its commitment to health and safety by protecting his or her own health and safety by working in compliance with the Occupational Health and Safety Act.”
Ramer described the force’s mandatory vaccination requirement as “consistent with the approach of the City of Toronto and its agencies, boards and commissions.” Only, it’s not.
The Toronto Transit Commission, for example, is firing employees who refuse to disclose their vaccination status, despite the resulting staff shortages. The Toronto Zoo is requiring staff who fail to disclose their status to take mandatory education on vaccines. The Toronto Public Library is doing the same. Those agencies have cited the city’s liabilities under the Ontario Human Rights Code as grounds for their decision.
A spokesperson for the TPSB suggests the police force’s decision to allow indefinite unpaid leave to its employees relates to “staffing/operations.” Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Mayor John Tory, who sits on the Board, cites “employee relations.”
“Recognizing that much of employee relations when it comes to policing, including terminations, is governed and bound by the provincial Police Services Act, the Mayor is confident Chief Ramer is doing all he can to protect the health and safety of all members of the police service and encourage members to get vaccinated,” says Tory spokesperson Lawvin Hadisi.
Operational matters are an issue that has been raised by other police forces across the country in the implementation of their own mandatory vaccination policies.
The TPS has more than 7,400 civilian and sworn members. Those who are unvaccinated make up a small number of the total force complement – less than two per cent. And Ramer said back in November that police would be “prioritizing frontline and priority response to ensure public safety is not impacted.”
But, as some critics have argued, the nature of an officer’s job and their proximity to the public – not to mention the fact they are sworn to carry out their duties to protect the public – changes the obligation for police to disclose their status.
The fact that the employment of sworn officers, that is to say, those with a badge and gun, is covered under the Police Services Act (PSA), makes the Toronto force’s policy murkier.
Under the Act, officers who fail to comply with an order or force policy are usually charged with misconduct. They are rarely, if ever, placed on leave without pay except in the most serious circumstances, for example, when an officer has been convicted of a serious criminal offence.
In the case of those who have refused to reveal their vaccination status, it’s unclear how many have been availing themselves of their vacation time, credits for days off or time in lieu for court appearances during their unpaid absence.
Other municipal police forces across the country have been grappling with the issue of officers who refuse to reveal their vaccination status, leading to a jumble of policies.
Vancouver police, for example, are only requiring their members to test themselves before they go on the job. There, staffing shortages are being blamed for the decision. It’s a similar story in Calgary, where vaccine non-compliance among officers is higher than on other forces. In Ottawa, police were originally not required to be vaccinated, but public backlash caused a recent reversal of that decision. Members of the RCMP who refuse to be vaccinated face disciplinary action. Members of the OPP must be tested every 24 hours.
Meanwhile, a federal court this week rejected a request by four members of the Canadian Armed Forces to protect them from disciplinary action for refusing to get vaccinated.
The judge in that case ruled that the applicants “failed to provide any evidence or arguments to show that their interests outweigh the public interest in ensuring, to the extent possible, the readiness, health and safety of the Forces, the Defence Team (military and civilian personnel), and the vulnerable groups they may be called on to serve.” Toronto police union president Jon Reid did not respond to separate requests from NOW for comment.