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‘We’ve been held ransom’: Police decision affects vaccination policy for city employees

Wednesday was the day all City of Calgary employees were required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, or be faced with two choices.

They could either pay for testing kits to prove they had not contracted the virus, or go on unpaid leave.

But due to a decision out of the municipal government’s control, employees will no longer be forced to pay for testing kits if they continue to refuse to get their shots.

“Thanks to the Calgary Police Service making a decision that they will pay for testing, we have been forced to do the same at the City of Calgary,” said Mayor Jyoti Gondek.

“Because other unions have said it’s not fair, if the Calgary police are paying for testing why aren’t you, City of Calgary?”

Gondek, clearly frustrated about the decision which she found out about only 20 minutes before speaking to reporters inside Historic City Hall on Wednesday, said they were all blindsided by it and the city manager was forced to cave in to demands.

“I know that (City Manager David Duckworth) was as surprised as I am that the police service made the move they did. It put him in a compromising position with other unions, and that’s simply not acceptable,” Gondek said.

“Now, instead of focusing on the good results we got by holding people accountable to get vaccinated, we’ve been held ransom,” the mayor added.

To this point, over 91 per cent of city employees have received both doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, with a small number of workers instead choosing unpaid leave over getting the shots.

Gondek said she will have more conversations with the city manager to figure out next steps, and also hopefully understand the rationale of the police decision.

She added it is also not known how much this could cost the city, and even if it has the proper amount of testing kits on hand to provide to unvaccinated employees.

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Even though the cost of the kits will continue to be covered, Gondek said those who do not show proof of a negative test are still susceptible to being put on unpaid leave.

With major gains made in the past few months to boost the vaccination rate around Calgary, Gondek said this is a puzzling decision and cannot understand why it has come to this, especially with a new variant in the province and the risks of the virus well known.

“You’re telling me that there’s a few people, a very small percentage of the population, that doesn’t want to do anything and we’ll reward them by paying for their testing?” Gondek said. “Unacceptable.”

Police applied for free tests as part of provincial program: CPS

However, the Calgary Police Service has taken to social media to refute Gondek’s claims, saying “this is incorrect” and that under the CPS’ policy, employees will have to pay for their own rapid testing kids, that is until the service can obtain “free” kits it has applied for through the province.

“As part of the government’s Rapid Testing Program, essential services were given the opportunity to apply for free kits until March 2022. We are still waiting for these kits & until they arrive, members who are not vaccinated will continue to pay for rapid testing kits out of their own pocket,” reads a statement from the CPS.

Those kits are expected to be provided to the CPS in March 2022, police explained.

“All essential services in Alberta can apply for free kits under this limited program,” it added.

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