Sarnia Coun. Margaret Bird has been banned from attending in-person council meetings because she has not been vaccinated against COVID-19.
Following an acrimonious debate Monday, city council voted to require all councillors to provide proof of vaccination by Oct. 31 or be excluded from in-person meetings.
“If we can ban the use of plastic bottles in City Hall to protect the environment, surely we can protect the health of our fellow city councillors and political appointees by requiring immunization against a deadly disease, “ said Coun. Mike Stark, who proposed the idea.
Bird called the move “bullying, harassing and discriminatory.”
The councillor, who in the past has said the human immune system is effective at protecting against viruses, described COVID-19 vaccines Monday as untested and experimental.
“I am not against vaccinations and I have had plenty of them in my life, but it has always been mine or my family’s choice,” she said.
“Never was there any unethical coercion, bribery or threats.”
Dr. Chris Greensmith, Lambton’s acting medical officer of health, has urged all local employers to bring in mandatory vaccination policies to protect their staff. City Hall responded by requiring all municipal employees to show proof of a first shot by Sept. 23.
Bird, who is an elected official and not an employee, questioned the authority of Greensmith to tell others what to do because he is only the ‘acting’ medical officer of health, she said.
“We do not have to justify our actions. We have the constitutional right to refuse a vaccine,” she said.
Council meetings are currently held via Zoom but in-person meetings are expected to resume after City Hall reopens to the public in October.
The vote was 5-3, with councillors Stark, Brian White, Terry Burrell, George Vandenberg and Mayor Mike Bradley supporting proof of vaccination for members of council and other public bodies.
Opposed were councillors Bird, Dave Boushy and Bill Dennis.
Coun. Nathan Colquhoun disappeared prior to the vote and was marked down as “absent.”
The debate became heated.
Boushy questioned the legality of the idea and asked Stark to “cool it” until the lawyers could study it.
“We have to be fair to Margaret. She was elected by the people,” Boushy said.
Stark and Dennis, who have sparred in the past, had an especially bitter exchange.
After Stark said it’s the job of elected leaders to show leadership, Dennis accused Stark of political opportunism.
“I will not take lectures from you,” Dennis said.
Mayor Bradley asked Dennis to “cool the rhetoric,” but the councillor repeatedly interrupted Stark’s response, and at one point accused him of “Bulls**t”.
When asked for an opinion, city lawyer David Logan said the motion does not attempt to remove anyone from council, it only requires them to participate via Zoom.
Dennis said he opposed “demonizing” an unvaccinated councillor, and suggested plastic partitions be installed at council chambers so Bird could attend.
“This divisiveness is not Canadian, or never used to be,” he said.
Mayor Bradley said that 20 months into the pandemic it’s important for political leaders to get fully vaccinated and state that they are.
“What we need to do is to show the community that we are leaders,” he said.