Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to my colleague's private member's bill, Bill C-278, an act to prevent the imposition by the federal government of vaccination mandates for employment and travel.
This bill is an important chance to right some of the wrongs Canadians endured during the COVID-19 pandemic, including and especially the violations of their rights and freedoms.
Formally, the bill:amends the Financial Administration Act to provide that the Treasury Board may not require as a condition of employment in the federal public administration that a person receive a vaccine against COVID-19. It also amends the Canada Labour Code to provide that regulations may not be made that require, as a term or condition of employment in or in connection with the operation of a federal work, undertaking or business, that a person receive a vaccine against COVID-19.
The bill also amends the Aeronautics Act, the Railway Safety Act and the Canada Shipping Act, 2001, to provide that no regulation, order or other instrument made under any of those acts to prevent the introduction or spread of COVID-19 may prohibit or have the effect of prohibiting a person from boarding an aircraft, a train or a vessel solely on the ground that they have not received a vaccine against that disease.
The right to one's own medical choices is sacrosanct. The COVID-19 pandemic presented an unparalleled challenge to daily life for all Canadians across all areas of life and business. In its haste to ensure Canada was able to weather the pandemic as well as possible, the government of the day made some decisions that ultimately had serious negative effects on thousands of Canadians across the country.
The pandemic was undoubtedly a scary time for all, but instead of working with understanding and compassion, the Liberal government employed rhetoric that was cruel to its opponents. In particular, those who were hesitant to receive COVID-19 vaccines were made to be ridiculed and were discriminated against.
We now have the chance to take a sober second look at the outcome and aftermath of the pandemic. While it can be argued that the vaccines helped many, the way the government mandated their use in certain areas cannot be repeated. I am speaking about mandating vaccines as a requirement for employment and travel.
Particularly when it became clear that the vaccines were not a silver bullet and could not stop the spread of COVID-19 wholesale, the serious restrictions put on unvaccinated Canadians became unconscionable. In August 2021, the Liberal government mandated vaccination against COVID-19 for all federal public servants, employees in federally regulated transport industries and passengers on commercial air travel, interprovincial rail service and cruise ships. In all, more than 1.235 million employees were subjected to that mandate, more than 8% of the total number of workers in Canada. Those who could not or would not receive the vaccine and did not have an exemption were put on unpaid leave or fired.
Thousands of Canadians were denied their rights to freedom of mobility. The charter grants them the freedom to enter and leave Canada, but for a period of almost three years, six million unvaccinated Canadians were trapped in their own country.
Certainly at the beginning of the pandemic, in the first three weeks, nobody knew what this was, how serious it was or what we should do. After three years, it was clear that people who were fully vaccinated, such as I am, could get and transmit COVID the same as the unvaccinated. All the members of this House, many of whom had COVID during this time, were busy flying back and forth and taking trains in the country, but the unvaccinated were unable to go anywhere. That was discrimination.
Thousands of Canadians were unable to see loved ones across the border. It was a situation I became well acquainted with in my border riding office. Families were split apart. Parents were unable to share custody of young children. Loved ones were unable to say goodbye to dying older parents on the basis of mandates not based on science.
I have people in my riding who are married to people who live just across the border. They were prevented from being with their spouses for years. This is just unacceptable.
Worse still, some workers who lost their jobs were ineligible for employment insurance benefits as of October 2021. Employment and Social Development Canada issued a notice at the time to enforce vaccine mandates to help them fill out records of employment, documents that are necessary in applying for the benefits. According to The Canadian Press, “The department said if an employee doesn't report to work or is suspended or terminated for refusing to comply with a vaccine mandate, the employer should indicate that they quit, took a leave of absence or were dismissed potentially disqualifying them from EI.” While indeed it is an employer's right to set the rules of conduct for their workplace, for the federal government to instruct the employer to deny employees Canadian government benefits they had paid into was wrong. How many Canadians suffered and how many families went without because of this direction?
The EI system is an insurance premium system. A person pays their premiums, qualifies with their hours and collects the benefit, yet at the same time that the government was handing out CERB cheques of $2,000 a month, it was preventing people who were terminated for not being vaccinated from getting any money at all.
Furthermore, a year ago in June, the government refused to repay employees who lost their jobs due to the mandate the first time. Reporting in the National Post at the time states: "The ... government says it will not repay any salary to federal public servants who were suspended since October because of the COVID-19 vaccine mandate.” This was at the time the mandate was being lifted. This was after months of calls for the government to reverse the mandates, not only from me and my colleagues but also from the major public service unions, including PSAC, PIPSC and CAPE. All had filed policy grievances against the employer's vaccine mandate for federal bureaucrats. At the same time, many other countries had released and stopped their mandates, following the advice of the World Health Organization after it said they were not effective. It took the government much too long to reverse these policies after much harm had been done.
I must say that it was not just Conservatives who opposed these divisive policies that had been imposed by the Prime Minister and the government. A few Liberals even had the courage to call out the Prime Minister for his efforts to divide Canadians. The Liberal MP for Louis-Hébert said, "A decision was made to wedge, to divide, and to stigmatize," further saying, “I fear that this politicization of the pandemic risks undermining the public’s trust in our public health institutions.” Even the former Liberal finance minister admitted that the Prime Minister used vaccines as a political wedge, saying, "I didn't see that as something that was helpful."
Today, millions of Canadians remain unvaccinated against COVID-19. We cannot allow the freedom of millions of people to make their personal medical decisions to ever be compromised again. We cannot discriminate against millions of people for their personal medical choices. We cannot stand in this House and say we stand up for Canadians while leaving out a significant portion of the population.
it is clear that this extreme restriction of freedoms must never happen again. Hopefully we will never see the like of another COVID-19 pandemic, but there could be other similar threats out there, and we need to be prepared. It cannot be our main line of defence against a pandemic to arbitrarily limit the rights and freedoms of its citizens.
This bill, Bill C-278, will help to ensure that. We must not limit employment or travel on the basis of vaccination. We must not limit the operations of our House of Commons or our federal public service or our important industries on the basis of vaccination; it must be down to the individual's choice.
I will share one example of something that happened in my riding of Sarnia—Lambton.
At the beginning of the pandemic, nurses were heroes on the front line. They wore their personal protective equipment and there were no vaccines. Then, subsequently, when the vaccines came forward, there was a vaccine mandate put in place. Even though all the nurses were wearing the same protective equipment and there was no science or evidence that there was any transmission and the unvaccinated ones were being tested every day, which gave even more of a guarantee, the unvaccinated ones were all fired. Four weeks after all the unvaccinated nurses left the facility, there was an outbreak of COVID-19 among the COVID-vaccinated nurses. What was accomplished was misery in many people's lives and nothing positive whatsoever.
It is time to replace the fear sowed by the Liberals with a new hope. We must take these lessons learned and enshrine them into law. We can have a Canada where personal medical choice is protected, a Canada with productive and profitable trade and travel. We can bring it home to your home, my home, our home. Let us bring it home.