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Coronavirus
Politics
Yellowknife

Why Robin Williams changed his approach to proof of vaccination


Councillor Robin Williams’ backing for proof of vaccination proved the decisive swing vote at a Monday night meeting of Yellowknife city councillors.

Williams, who last week said he opposed using a proof-of-vaccination requirement to lift capacities at city facilities, this week changed his mind. His vote helped the measure pass by five votes to four.

Here’s how he explained his decision in a short statement immediately before casting that vote. You can watch the meeting in its entirety on the city’s website.

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“I’m not in favour of the policy as written, so that puts me in a pretty challenging position with this one,” he said.

“After the discussion, and after weeks, I thought we’d be able to come together and at least make what’s in that public policy explicit. We all know it’s 12-plus, that’s the only people that can get the vaccine right now, that’s following exactly the public health orders, not deviating from them in any way, shape, or form.

“Administration talked about it already expiring when the current public health order does, and I’m at least glad that that’s in there.

“I guess at the end of the day, after this discussion, I get thinking about all the emails we read. Many I agreed with on both sides. Like has been said, this is a lose-lose situation for, I think, everybody. Either we are barring people from our facilities because of their vaccination status and a choice that they may or may not have made, or we’re reducing capacity and limiting it.

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“I guess, when it came to Tuesday, my first impulse after the meeting was to reach out to user groups and hear how the public health orders were going with them and how individualized plans were proceeding.

“At that point, that’s what started to shift me. I heard from the ski club that that wasn’t an ideal situation and I think some of what we heard from Mr Morton here today, it’s echoed in minor hockey. I don’t want to put my hand up for this one but unfortunately, that’s the decision we have to make as council.

“I certainly hope politics can ease at some point in our society, and maybe we can compromise a bit. I see that compromise only has to happen from one side. I guess I’ve got to be that guy.”

What Tim Morton said

Councillor Williams referred in his closing remarks to an earlier presentation by Tim Morton, a member of the Yellowknife Minor Hockey group that uses the city’s ice rinks.

Here’s what Morton told councillors.

“I’m here speaking to you in support of the City of Yellowknife proof-of-vaccination policy. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m a father of two kids who use the facilities on an extremely regular basis. I’m a user of those facilities myself and a volunteer in a user group, Yellowknife Minor Hockey. At no point will I be discussing the vaccine or its effectiveness, but I will be focusing on the effect that the pandemic has had on me, my children, and the facility user groups.

“Yellowknife Minor Hockey has experienced an extreme level of volunteer burnout. Anyone that’s been involved in minor hockey pre-Covid knows how difficult volunteering can be. However, you add the restrictions that have been placed on Yellowknife Minor Hockey and it has added gas to an already seemingly out-of-control wildfire.

“In order to play hockey, we have had to implement our own proof-of-vaccination policy that requires all participants, volunteers, and spectators to provide proof of vaccination prior to coming to the arena. This has helped us get back to semi-normal on-ice numbers. However, when it comes to spectators, we are now under restrictions even more strict than April 2020. Due to facility spectator numbers, we have had to make the difficult decision to restrict spectators to one person per child, which means both mom and dad, grandpa and grandma, cannot come to watch their kids play hockey.

“We have had volunteers sitting at tables trying to enforce spectator numbers, checking proofs of vaccination, asking screening questions, and taking the brunt of anger from a very – and I mean very – small minority of people that don’t agree with these restrictions.

“Compared to small user groups, it would take a minimal effort for the City of Yellowknife to implement a proof-of-vaccination requirement at recreational facilities, Leaving it to the volunteers who run our minor sports is not fair. It’s completely unreasonable. It comes across as passing the buck when it comes to responsibilities.

“As a father, I have watched my kids’ swimming lessons be cancelled on a continuous basis. I have to place them on waiting lists because I’ve logged in to the system at 9:01am and been told the facility has a 25-person limit during public swims. But the most heartbreaking thing of all this is that my daughter has her birthday party booked at the pool on November 20 and has 27 kids in her classroom. I’ll do the math for you: four adults need to come to the pool. That leaves 21 spots for kids. This means she has to go through her class list and choose which six kids do not get invited to her birthday party. You should try explaining to her when she asks why she can’t give invites to everyone in her class. There will be six kids sitting there without an invite, probably feeling pretty left out, and my daughter will probably be feeling pretty horrible. At no point should young kids feel this way.

“Lord knows, I’ve not agreed with many of the restrictions that our chief public health officer has placed upon this city or sports organizations during this pandemic. In fact, I’ve been fairly vocal about some of these policies and restrictions. But the City of Yellowknife has the opportunity to take control of some of these restrictions in their facilities and improve the lives of the vast majority of facility users.

“I ask you to vote to let parents and grandparents watch their kids play sports, vote to stop having kids feel left out because they don’t get invited to birthday parties, vote to reduce volunteer burnout within our minor sports user groups, and vote to take even the most minor amounts of stress off people and help the city and its people return to a pre-Covid lifestyle.

“These decisions are not easy to make. I know, because I was the one who wrote and recommended implementation of Yellowknife Minor Hockey’s proof-of-vaccination policy, which tore me up. I know I’m speaking from my point of view but, as elected city councillors, when the majority of the city of Yellowknife supports a policy such as this, you should step in and implement it. Please vote to implement this policy. We need it.”

Yellowknife city councillors during a meeting at which a proof-of-vaccination policy was discussed
Yellowknife city councillors during a meeting at which a proof-of-vaccination policy was discussed.

A contrasting view

Of 10 residents who presented to councillors on Monday, seven supported the policy and three opposed it.

Ariel Stuart is an example of a resident who spoke to oppose the policy. Here’s what Stuart said.

“I’ve been a resident of Yellowknife for 14 years. In those 14 years, I’ve come to know Yellowknife as a welcoming and inclusive environment. Keeping that in mind, I’d always thought the city would participate in policies and initiatives that would treat all residents fairly and equally.

“The vaccination mandate does just the opposite. I am completely against the vaccination mandate and the city should be, too. I understand that one of the issues is that some people believe that if the city says no to the mandate, that the city appears to be anti-vaccination. The mandate has nothing to do with believing in the validity of Covid-19 vaccination. This mandate is not denying claims made by science. This mandate is, however, denying members of the community access to facilities that their tax dollars directly help fund.

“I understand council’s desire to keep their facilities and community members safe. However, by strictly denying access only to members of the population who choose not to be vaccinated, you’re ultimately contributing to the ongoing divide between the vaccinated and unvaccinated populations in your community. As we have seen in the most recent outbreak in the NWT, vaccinated individuals get Covid and can transmit it, too. Can the council be completely confident that this mandate will present a Covid-positive individual from accessing their facilities?

“Why not explore the option of proof of a negative Covid test for all individuals, regardless of their vaccination status? This would be a fair and equal requirement of all community members. At the very least, this option should be offered to the unvaccinated population instead of denying them access entirely. Just because an individual is unvaccinated does not automatically make them a Covid-19 threat.

“Also, why only now are we exploring this mandate option, especially when our Covid case numbers are in rapid decline? What are the reasons for placing this type of restriction? Have we had an outbreak in a city facility to date? If the mandate gets approved, how long will it be put in place? Is it based on Covid cases in the community? As I’m speaking, we have 24 active cases in the community of Yellowknife. Is this a reasonable cause for such a restrictive mandate?

“We all want to return to normal, but this mandate denies normal for many of your community members without proper reasoning, a time frame for the proposed mandate, or alternative measures for those who are unvaccinated. As a city council, you owe it to your community to base policies on sound and informed reasoning with options. By saying yes to this mandate, you are saying yes to a divide in our community. By voting no, you are not disrespecting or placing further restrictions on vaccinated citizens, but are including everyone.”

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