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The vaccine mandate debate: Kamloops Coun. Walsh, Cache Creek Mayor Talarico stand opposed

Denis Walsh calls such mandates ‘cruel and unethical,’ while Santo Talarico cites ‘freedom to choose’ what one puts into their body
Denis Walsh Santo Talarico

Most of Kamloops council favours a vaccine mandate for city staff, but one councillor is opposed and is not vaccinated against COVID-19.

Coun. Denis Walsh said he is against a mandate for council, city staff, contractors and volunteers.

“I think it’s cruel and unethical,” Walsh told KTW. “To force someone to make a decision to lose their livelihood or their ability to financially support their families, et cetera, is cruel.”

The city is working on policy to require staff, volunteers and contractors to be vaccinated by Dec. 15. Policy details are expected by the end of the month, including guidelines around what happens to those who are not vaccinated, which could include testing requirements or other measures.

Council, however, is excluded and KTW reached out to council members to ask whether they should be included in the policy.

Kamloops Mayor Ken Christian is double vaccinated. He said city CAO David Trawin brought forward the mandate for staff, contractors and volunteers to create a safe working environment for 900 people. Christian said council could have a separate policy requiring vaccination — and he would support it, along with vaccine mandates for every major employer in the city.

“I believe that mandatory vaccination policies are the way that we’re going to get our immunization rate up around and above the 90 per cent level and I think that’s the level that we need in the community to get herd immunity and to combat some of the emerging variants of COVID-19, and so I would fully support that,” Christian said.

Councillors Dale Bass, Sadie Hunter, Bill Sarai, Kathy Sinclair and Arjun Singh — all vaccinated against COVID-19 — all said council should lead by example.

“There’s a lot of conflicting information out there, but as an organization, the city and TNRD, we’re looking at trusted sources and the majority of scientific data shows that vaccines are effective, so that’s where I’m aligned,” Sinclair said.

The Thompson-Nicola Regional District is also discussing a vaccine mandate, including provisions around vaccine requirements for directors.

Coun. Dieter Dudy, who is also double vaccinated, said that while morally he is in support of requiring council to be vaccinated, he doesn’t know how it would work. He said it can’t be mandated by the city or region.

“There’s nothing that we have in our toolbox that would allow us to do that,” he said.

Trawin, who is double vaccinated, explained he has no authority over council to require vaccination. He said council could look at its own policy, but he doesn’t know what authority council has over another councillor to require vaccination. He said he does not think that, legally, council can ban a councillor from a meeting.

“You could potentially say that that councillor couldn’t come into a city facility, I guess,” Trawin said. “But they’d still have to be able to allow that councillor, in my opinion, to do their job.”

Coun. Mike O’Reilly is double vaccinated and supports mandating vaccines for elected officials, but said councillors need the opportunity to represent the people who elected them.

Walsh received about 7,960 votes in the last civic election, in which he finished sixth in a field of 21 candidates, with the top eight voter-getters being elected.

Walsh is not vaccinated against COVID-19 because he believes in natural immunity. He said he obtained antibodies from having contracted COVID-19 in the past, adding he is also confident in his physical fitness and health.

(O’Reilly also previously had COVID-19, but was still vaccinated.)

Walsh said taking the vaccine opens him up to the rare chance of having adverse reactions to the vaccine, adding he has been diagnosed with hepatitis C, impacting his liver. He said he has quit drinking and does not even take Tylenol. He said he worries about unknown long-term effects of the vaccine.

In addition, Walsh said vaccines are not as effective as people think and can still lead to people ending up in hospital. He thinks vaccine mandates give people a false sense of security, arguing government should not be relaxing restrictions around gathering.

“There’s an effort, I believe — and I would claim even by the media, by the government — they want people vaccinated,” Walsh said. “There’s a reluctance to report people that are dying that are vaccinated or to label it.”

Singh said council reflects what is happening in the general community, with a majority in support of vaccination and a minority opposed.

Singh said he respects Walsh’s views, but hopes he will change his mind because his fellow councillor’s decision puts council and city staff in an uncomfortable position.

“Denis definitely marches to his own drum and I’ve always had a lot of respect and put a lot of value in that, but I think, in this particular case, it is something I hope he can see his way and change his mind,” Singh said.

Vaccine mandate also discussed at TNRD board level

Last week, Cache Creek Mayor Santo Talarico came forward during a TNRD meeting in opposition of a vaccine mandate for regional politicians.

Speaking with KTW, Talarico defended what he called the “freedom to choose,” which he said is a fundamental right. Talarico said he is not vaccinated against COVID-19, but would not say why. Talarico will not get the flu shot, but said he is not an anti-vaxxer.

“I don’t have to explain what my beliefs are to you,” Talarico said. “You know that. I don’t ask you, ‘Why do you believe in Jesus Christ?’ You can tell me, ‘That’s none of your business.’”

Talarico said the provincial NDP and federal Liberal governments have chosen sides in telling workers that if they do not get vaccinated, they will lose their jobs or employment insurance benefits, which he called “unethical.” He said he represents those who choose to be vaccinated and those who choose to not be vaccinated.

He conceded the health care system is being impacted by COVID-19, but argued the system was in trouble prior to the pandemic.

Bass — who has received a third COVID-19 vaccine dose, as she is still receiving cancer treatment — said she doesn’t understand anti-vaxxers.

“If they’re sick, they’re going to go to their doctor and to the hospital, right?” Bass said. “And they trust the science of the doctors and the hospital staff then. So, when every freaking doctor, medical expert now, says these vaccinations are good and they will reduce significantly your chance of getting COVID and they will also put you into a community that collectively reduces the chance of others getting COVID, I just don’t understand why, all of a sudden, you go, ‘I have rights.’”

Meanwhile, Hunter is at home recovering and quarantining from COVID-19. She was among those in attendance at a recent concert at the Blue Grotto and tested positive, missing last week’s city council meeting as a result. Hunter is double vaccinated but still became ill. She said she has a history of respiratory issues but was not hospitalized. She said it would have been worse if she wasn’t vaccinated.

“To me, that just speaks to how important it is to be vaccinated,” she said. “Because if I hadn’t been, then who knows.”

Hunter said she supports a vaccine mandate. Hunter said council is not exempt from broader public policy and it is council’s “obligation” to set an example. She likened it to laws dictating vehicular speeds and a social contract to protect the safety of others.

— Editor's note: This story was updated on Tuesday, Oct. 26, to include comments from Coun. Sadie Hunter.