Fort Smith’s newly elected council has unanimously passed a motion endorsing continued proof-of-vaccination checks at municipal facilities.
The town’s former council said last month Fort Smith had applied to use proof of vaccination to lift capacities in its facilities, following changes to the Northwest Territories’ gathering limits.
Some residents unhappy with that decision formed a group they named the Thebacha Liberty Comittee, opposing what the group’s members termed “undue discrimination” against people who choose not to be vaccinated.
The group asked the new council to revert back to gathering limits used last year that would allow unvaccinated teens and adults to use town facilities.
A one-page letter to town council was signed by around 35 community members.
At a meeting on Tuesday, some councillors said they empathized with the group and were disappointed that the chief public health officer’s latest rules had created so much division in the town.
But councillors said their responsibility was to best serve the whole community and follow the guidance of public health officials.
In one of their first meetings since October 18’s election, many councillors were new to their positions and unfamiliar the town’s earlier decision to check for proof of vaccination, which came into effect less than a week after they were elected.
Senior administrative officer Cynthia White said last month’s decision to use proof of vaccination was an “operational response” to the chief public health officer’s order and not a written policy.
White invited council to make a motion or give formal direction to staff about what should now happen.
Some councillors were concerned about what would happen when the chief public health officer’s restrictions eventually lift. If a policy were put in place, some said, the town could end up requiring proof of vaccination long after the NWT’s public health orders no longer required it.
“If we don’t have a policy then, when the CPHO order ends, this ends, because we no longer have to have those approved exemptions from the CPHO office,” White told councillors.
Community has spoken, councillor says
“I think we owe it to the people of Fort Smith to protect them to the best of our ability,” said Councillor Kevin Campbell, a sentiment shared by the other councillors who spoke.
Ann Pischinger said: “They call it public health because it’s what’s best for the public … we have to take the whole community into consideration.”
Referencing the community of 2,500’s high vaccination rate – 80 percent of the adult population is vaccinated – Councillor Jay MacDonald said: “I think the community has spoken. I think we listen. I think we should trust our public health.
“Our first job here, in this council, is to listen to our community. That doesn’t mean just listening to words. It means looking around and seeing what the actions are. Our community has responded with an 80-percent response.
“I think we support those people. And yes, we’re going to have disgruntled people who are going to say, ‘You guys are totally wrong.’ I think we need to support our community.”
Yellowknife’s council approved proof of vaccination at city facilities by five votes to four earlier this week. The CBC reported Hay River did the same for its community centre by five votes to three.