June 14, 2022 By Laura Osman, The Canadian Press
OTTAWA — The Canadian government is putting an end to COVID-19 vaccine mandates for domestic and outbound international travellers and federally regulated workers, sources say.
Chief government whip Steven MacKinnon confirmed there would be an announcement to change the government’s policy Tuesday afternoon.
The government faces mounting pressure from tourism and travel associations to do away with vaccine mandates to help ease the chaos that has erupted at Canada’s airports and bring rules in line with provincial public health measures.
The new rules are expected to come into effect on June 20, though the requirements for foreign nationals coming to Canada will not change, say two government sources close to the decision, who were granted anonymity to speak about matters they were not authorized to discuss publicly.
Travel industry groups have blamed federal public health measures for slowdowns at airport customs that have contributed to long waits for passengers and forced flight delays and cancellations.
MacKinnon credited the declining number of cases as the reason to “soften up” the rules and said the mandates are merely going to be “suspended.”
“They could come back. The pandemic is not over,” he said.
The Public Health Agency of Canada has reported a steadily declining number of COVID-19 cases, though provinces are no longer providing COVID-19 molecular tests for the general public and federal reporting has become less regimented.
The government announced last week it would suspend random testing at airports for vaccinated travellers, with plans to move testing off-site by next month. But after that announcement, the Canadian Travel and Tourism Roundtable called on the government to go further and end vaccine mandates for travellers and staff at Canada’s airports.
The vaccine mandate will also be lifted for domestic travellers on passenger trains and buses, allowing unvaccinated Canadians to move more freely around the country.
The change will also affect federal workers who have been put on unpaid leave because of their vaccination status.
The government hasn’t revealed how many employees have been put on leave, but reports 98.5 per cent of public servants are fully vaccinated with two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.
The Public Service Alliance of Canada filed a policy grievance against the government earlier this year on behalf of those put on leave as well as public servants who work from home but still needed to be vaccinated or risk losing their pay. Several other public sector unions have made similar challenges.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau first pitched vaccine mandates for federal workers and domestic travellers during the summer election, before the Omicron wave hit Canada full force.
The government made no secret that it hoped the mandates would pressure Canadians to get their shots, saying the move was necessary to protect the public from severe illness and transmission of the virus.
After the Omicron variant overwhelmed the country, opposition members and some experts began to question the effectiveness of the mandate, since Omicron was still transmissible among people considered fully inoculated.
However, some public health experts have called on the government to add a third dose to the vaccine mandate to protect against severe illness.
“Two doses is not enough to provide vaccine effectiveness against Omicron infection,” chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said at a briefing Friday.
While more than 89 per cent of Canadians over the age of 12 have at least two doses of an approved COVID-19 vaccine, only about 55 per cent of them have received a booster shot.
Tam said policy decisions about vaccine mandates are made by cabinet, and she has been providing data to support their decisions.
“But that’s not the only information that the relevant employers or ministers have to take into account,” she said.