In media interviews and public forums, Prince George city council candidate Paul Serup has said the City of Prince George should end its COVID-19 vaccine mandate and compensate employees who lost their jobs or hours because of the mandate.
“It’s medical coercion and it should end,” Serup said in an interview with the Citizen. “I don't see the science or logic behind this continuing.”
The implication is that City of Prince George employees who chose not to be vaccinated were dismissed or punished with reduced hours. But did that actually happen?
As of Dec. 30, 2021, the City of Prince George imposed a mandate requiring all City of Prince George employees and contractors to be fully vaccinated. That mandate remains in effect.
“Fully vaccinated” means having both doses of a two-dose COVID-19 vaccine series approved by Health Canada, or 14 days after a single-dose COVID-19 vaccines series approved by Health Canada, or anyone else the B.C. Centre for Disease Control defines as “fully immunized,” a spokesperson for the City of Prince George said in an email.
“The percentage of City employees who are fully vaccinated is approximately 97 (per cent). This includes employees who are on leave,” the city spokesperson wrote. “No employees have had their employment terminated by the employer for refusal to comply with the vaccine mandate.”
However, after this article was posted online, multiple City of Prince George employees reached out to the Citizen by phone and email to say they had been placed on unpaid leave without benefits as a result of the city's vaccine mandate. The Citizen is not naming the employees to protect their identity, should they seek to return to work at the city.
Several employees provided the Citizen with copies of letters sent to them from the city's human resources department, printed on City of Prince George letterhead, informing them that they were being placed on unpaid leave for failing to comply with the city's Mandatory COVID-19 Vaccine Program by the Jan. 14 deadline.
"Your decision not to comply with the rule means you are no longer eligible to be actively at work and have essentially become disqualified to perform your duties," the letters say.
The employees were given until March 14, 2022 to provide proof they had received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine to maintain their right to hold their positions at the city.
"After that date, the City will begin the process of posting and filling your job," the letters say. "You will remain as an employee on leave of absence until such time as you become qualified to return to work."
The city's agreement with CUPE allows employees to remain on a leave of absence for a maximum of 12 months, the letter adds, "after which time your employment will terminate."
The City of Prince George did not respond to the Citizen's request to clarify the status of employees who had not complied with the vaccine mandate as of Friday.
The Citizen could not independently confirm the number of employees currently on unpaid leave and facing termination in January, however one employee said an online support group for city employees on unpaid leave has more than 30 members.
The city’s vaccine mandate policy contains a provision respecting the B.C. Human Rights Code and requires that the city provide accommodation for employees on human rights grounds, the spokesperson said.
“The City communicated this aspect of the Program and provided applications for accommodation to employees who sought accommodations based on any prohibited ground of discrimination under the Code,” the city spokesperson wrote. “No accommodations were made outside of the requirements of the Human Rights Code (i.e. if an accommodation was requested based on personal beliefs or grounds unrelated to human rights).”
CONCLUSION: Mostly true. Serup is correct that the City of Prince George does have an active mandate requiring staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19. No employees have been terminated to date, but at least some city employees have been placed on unpaid leave, had their positions filled and face termination in January unless they comply with the city's vaccine mandate.