The N.W.T. cabinet is beginning to develop a mandatory vaccination policy for public sector employees in the Northwest Territories.
In a press conference Wednesday, Premier Caroline Cochrane said they have "picked up discussions" about vaccine mandates for staff and proposed mandates for Canadians who want to fly. Cochrane said they're doing a "cross-jurisdictional" review and consulting with MLAs, Indigenous governments and the union to determine what a public sector vaccine mandate could look like in the N.W.T.
The public can expect updates on the policy in the coming week.
In an email to CBC, Union of Northern Workers President Todd Parsons said the union generally supports measures to increase vaccination rates and reduce the transmission of COVID-19 in N.W.T. communities, which currently has the highest rate of infection in the country.
"As an employer, the GNWT is obligated to provide a safe work environment while respecting workers' human rights and legal rights to privacy," he said.
"If a worker cannot be vaccinated for reasons protected under human rights legislation, the employer must ensure their policy provides options for accommodation," said Parsons.
Parsons said the union has not seen a finalized policy from the territorial government, and so cannot give specific comments, but expects the territorial government to consult the union on a policy which could affect the collective agreement or employee's rights.
What about exemptions?
Yellowknife North MLA Rylund Johnson said he is supportive of vaccine mandates for people who work in hospital settings and long-term care facilities.
Kam Lake MLA Caitlin Cleveland, who said she is double vaccinated, said her constituents want to know if the territorial government is prepared to make accommodations for people who could not get vaccinated for medical reasons, and if the policy will impact their job security.
Other jurisdictions, such as New Brunswick, which have introduced vaccine passports for the general population, have included narrow criteria for medical exemptions, such as known anaphylaxis to the vaccine's ingredients. In that case, an allergist must confirm a person's allergy to the mRNA vaccines, and the previous "severe' reaction" must be documented.
Cleveland said at least one of her constituents has asked if the territorial government anticipates legal action against them if the policy goes against the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
If the N.W.T. government brings in a vaccine mandate for the public service, it will join the federal government, which announced in August that it would introduce vaccine mandates for staff by the end of September.