Nearly 600 federal officers have been granted a religious exemption to avoid vaccination against COVID-19, which is mandatory in Canadian civil service.
According to data obtained by our Office of Inquiry from the Treasury Board, the Trudeau administration granted religious exemptions to 597 officials and denied 1,100 other requests for them.
Justin Trudeau announced in early October last year that all federal employees would need to be vaccinated against COVID-19. They had until the end of the month to comply or risk being suspended without pay.
The prime minister had sparked controversy by implying that exceptions would be accepted on religious grounds. He had specified that they were “extremely limited and difficult to obtain”. A statement from his office said they complied with the provisions of Canada’s human rights law.
Several groups had denounced the gesture, believing it went against public health imperatives.
Furthermore, this policy was in contrast to that of Quebec, where provincial officials, where vaccination is also mandatory, are not allowed exceptions for religious matters.
According to recent data released by the Treasury Board, 98.5% of the government’s 281,210 public employees (a figure that includes the ranks of the RCMP but not the Canadian Armed Forces) are immune to COVID-19.
There are at least 1,550 officers who are unvaccinated or have received a single dose.
Then there are the exceptions. The 597 posts granted on religious grounds thus represent 0.2% of the total number of civil servants on duty. In addition, 396 employees were granted health leave. The requirement was the submission of a medical certificate.
Even if the number of religious exceptions is small, the Bloc Québécois considers this policy to be wrong.
“Religion should not interfere in public health issues,” stresses MNA Louise Chabot in reference to secularism.
“Initially, she continues, it was a misstep and it has remained a misstep. I find it difficult to understand this desire. »
Mme Chabot sees this as a “form of multiculturalism”. “Individual rights take precedence over the collective terrain,” she says. It is not the first time the government has acted in this way. »
Under pressure from public sector unions, the federal government may review a certain part of its vaccination policy in the near future, Radio-Canada recently reported.
This will determine whether the booster dose, the third dose, is required and whether the policy should continue to apply to teleworkers.
How can we grant a religious exemption from vaccination against COVID-19 when every major belief on the planet endorses this measure?
In fact, the policy of the Trudeau administration is not aimed at judging whether, for example, a Catholic employee should be entitled to it or not. In his case, it would be no, since Pope Francis is promoting vaccination.
Rather, the Treasury Board rules are concerned with determining whether an official in a particular case “has a sincere religious belief which prohibits him from vaccination” and whether he is able to adequately explain this.
The explanation must not be “fictitious or arbitrary”, the rules specify.
To prove the seriousness of his claims, the civil servant must complete a two-page affidavit requesting exemption and explain his explanations.
With kind approval
Officials must fill out the first page of the declaration if they are exempt from vaccination for religious reasons.
It is then up to the supervisor responsible for the employee to assess whether the application is admissible or not.
According to the Treasury Department, 35% of public employees (597 out of 1,697) who applied for the exemption received it.
A review by Vanderbilt University in Tennessee shows that all major world religions, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, which oppose blood transfusions, support vaccination. Only a small group of evangelical churches oppose it.