Iqaluit to drop vaccine mandate, but masks still required in city buildings
Mask requirement applies to all public spaces in city facilities, with a few exceptions
Updated on Thursday, April 14, 2022 at 10:15 a.m.
People in Iqaluit will soon not need to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to enter city buildings once city council formally amends a bylaw, but they will still have to wear a mask.
City council approved that plan at its meeting Tuesday and also directed staff to look into other possible public safety measures the municipality could adopt. Councillors are expected to consider an amendment to the vaccine mandate bylaw at their April 27 meeting. That amendment would clear the path to end the city’s vaccine mandate.
Since Feb. 7, only people who have received two doses of a federally approved COVID-19 vaccine have been allowed to enter city facilities.
But the Government of Nunavut lifted most of its COVID-19 public health measures as of Monday, including most mask mandates.
That led the city to review its own COVID-19 rules, including whether to impose its own mask mandate for all public spaces in city buildings and keep its vaccination requirement for indoor city facilities.
“We’ve been listening to (chief public health officer Dr. Michael Patterson) for two years now and he hasn’t run us wrong,” said Mayor Kenny Bell.
He spoke in support of ending the vaccine mandate, saying the GN has a good record dealing with COVID-19 and by ensuring masking continues in city facilities, the risks to municipal staff are mitigated.
Chief executive officer Amy Elgersma offered councillors three options for proceeding with vaccine and mask mandates in city facilities.
It could remove the vaccine mandate and not require masks; it could remove the vaccine mandate but require masks; or, keep the vaccine mandate while also requiring masks.
Council chose the second option, including a provision that masks don’t have to be worn when participating in programming at city facilities, such as swimming.
The mask requirement will be revisited in six weeks.
Coun. Kyle Sheppard spoke in favour of keeping the vaccination requirement in place as well as for mask-wearing in city facilities, saying COVID-19 poses the same threat today it did three months ago.
He also voiced displeasure over the GN’s decision to lift COVID-19 public health measures now, adding it pushes the responsibility to protect public health onto other organizations.
“I think it’s absolutely abhorrent what the Government of Nunavut has done,” he said.
Coun. Romeyn Stevenson also supported lifting the vaccine mandate but keeping masks. He said part of the mandate’s purpose was to encourage vaccination, but at this point, anyone who is still unvaccinated is unlikely to change their stance.
By keeping masks, he said, the city ensures it is maintaining effective health measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“I think what we’re proposing here in [the second option] shows that we’re still serious about protecting our city and our staff,” Stevenson said.
Deputy Mayor Solomon Awa and Coun. Paul Quassa agreed with lifting the mandate but requiring masks offers effective safety measures.
Sheppard said he accepts council’s decision to drop the vaccine mandate. But, he said, it should look at creating a bylaw that would require essential businesses to require mask mandates.
“We should not have to walk down the aisle of the grocery store next to unmasked COVID-positive people,” he said.
Bell said the city may not have the capability to enforce rules requiring essential businesses to have mask mandates. However, revisiting the issue at the next council meeting in two weeks will allow city staff to look into other health measures are available.
Sheppard supported that review.
Correction: This article has been updated from a previous version to correct information about the City of Iqaluit’s process for amending its vaccine mandate bylaw.