Politics

RCMP union says it's representing unvaccinated Mounties fighting the federal mandate

The RCMP’s union says it’s representing a small number of Mounties who are fighting the federal government’s vaccine mandate.

RCMP won’t say how many members are on leave due to their vaccination status

The head of the RCMP's union says the number of RCMP employees off work due to their vaccination status is 'very, very small.' (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)

The RCMP's union says it's representing a small number of Mounties who are fighting the federal government's vaccine mandate.

Last fall, the re-elected Liberal government brought in a mandatory vaccination policy for most public servants, including members of the RCMP. Those who did not comply were warned that they'd be put on leave.

Brian Sauvé, president of the National Police Federation, said his union has heard from members who have been put on leave or dismissed due to noncompliance.

"We're neither here nor there on vaccine mandates. We don't support it. We're not against it," he said.

"But we will assist and represent members who are impacted by that, whether it be they're seeking accommodation on religious grounds or on medical grounds."

While some detachments across the country struggle with personnel shortages, Sauvé said the number of RCMP employees off work due to their vaccination status is "very, very small."

He wouldn't say how many cases the union is representing, citing the need to protect personal information. The RCMP also hasn't answered repeated questions about how many officers are on leave due to the policy.

The union, which represents about 20,000 RCMP officers across the country, says it takes on members' grievances on a case-by-case basis.

"So any member that comes to us with the case. we have to dig into it," said Sauvé. "And if there's something there, we can launch a grievance, we can launch a human rights complaint, we can launch any of those things.

Brian Sauvé is head of the National Police Federation, which represents about 20,000 RCMP officers across the country. (Submitted by Brian Sauvé)

"But if there's nothing there, then as long as we're making that decision in a fair and transparent manner, then we don't have to take [it] on."

According to Treasury Board statistics, more than 97 per cent of federal public servants are fully vaccinated.

Less than one per cent — about 775 people — are unvaccinated, while 3,290 people were seeking medical accommodations as of Dec. 16, 2021.

It's not clear where those individuals are working; Treasury Board hasn't yet provided a breakdown of the numbers by department.

Lawyer James Fu, a partner at Borden Ladner Gervais (BLG) in Toronto, said he's aware of no arbitration decision that has deemed workplace vaccine mandates unreasonable.

"Because from an employer's perspective there's the obligation to keep a safe workplace, to take reasonable measures to maintain a safe and healthy workplace," he said.

"And especially with Omicron, it seems like that is fairly highly transmissible, especially in either close contact or in contact with others."

Exemptions limited

While human rights law maintains a duty to accommodate individuals on religious or medical grounds, Fu said there's a high bar to prove an exemption is necessary.

Medical exemptions are rare and require documentation, while religious accommodations must be based on beliefs that are "sincerely held," he said.

"Those I would say are the majority of the types of exemption requests that we are seeing and even then, in that case, it's rarely granted," he said.

"The human rights tribunals have all indicated, or pretty much all have indicated, that singular beliefs or personal preferences do not amount to religion."

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