Toronto City Council orders halving of family sports programs amid immunisation row

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption “By making decisions to non-selectively exclude individuals based on religion or dual citizenship, the City may be in violation of federal and provincial laws,” a spokesperson for City of Toronto said

Toronto’s City Council has decided to temporarily stop all family-based sports programs across the city as it searches for staff who don’t want to participate in the city’s immunization campaigns.

The decision was prompted by concerns over the loss of staff who do not agree with the city’s vaccination policies, the CBC reported.

As of September 8, the City of Toronto’s website showed that 218 sites offered 45 family-based sports programs.

City of Toronto spokesperson Tara Vasseur confirmed to the ABC News that families were not being “banned” from attending such programs.

“You’re still welcome to come to these programs but not all people who are taking part in these programs are going to be immune to the conditions that are prevalent in the city of Toronto,” Ms Vasseur said.

The controversy stems from a decision made in February 2018 to support a boycott of the Chinese New Year’s Day ceremony scheduled in Toronto’s Chinatown – an event that is compulsory for Canadians, including those who are vaccinated.

Three members of staff who are not vaccination eligible voted in favour of the boycott, making it the “latest instance of staff divesting their service of work within the confines of the Health Minsiter’s orders.”

“If a person believes they are not eligible for vaccination, this form may be submitted for their exclusion from service and for discussion with staff,” Ms Vasseur said.

“This form does not require anyone to comply with the Health Minsiter’s orders … at the end of the day, these are processes put in place to maintain public health, a reality that is quite clear and separate from staff exemptions.”

However, in another example, a joint funding agreement between the City of Toronto and the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, called the “Town Hall”, was a result of heated discussion surrounding immunization.

The council agreed that members of the public would have an opportunity to speak to councillors “about issues that arise in their respective wards regarding vaccination, the Town Hall and Canada’s public health infrastructure”.

The councillor who is leading the fight against an assisted dying law in Ontario, Rathika Sitsabaiesan, told the City Council at the Town Hall meeting that she has not seen “one dropped needle in a landfill for any child who has received vaccine.”

“This is an issue of safety and of the safety of Canada,” Ms Sitsabaiesan said.

Newer to the media debate, the city’s mayor John Tory, said that the health commissioner is “an apolitical chair of the committee with no political views”.

Canada has recently experienced several measles outbreaks following past efforts to reduce the population’s immunity, but the disease is still largely considered a “harmless disease.”

If not vaccinated, measles can be extremely contagious – a theory that might have influenced the decision to prohibit members of the public from attending the Town Hall event.

Although Ms Vasseur denied that the committee’s chair has political leanings, she said: “What he’s doing is not working.”

“When we look at one side of the committee … they’re precluding Canadians who may be in the wrong place at the wrong time from participating in health services available to the city of Toronto.”

She added that the city has had to modify their approaches.

“If you’re coming from overseas and going to a park or a certain facility or a sports field, or you’re hiking or camping or whatever it is, you are not allowed to get the equipment and even perhaps to stay in the camping lodge with the rest of the families in that facility,” Ms Vasseur said.

“It’s absurd.”

However, while Ms Vasseur acknowledged that it has not been part of the city’s long-term policy to require people to sign an exemption form, she said some patrons have been left “disappointed and disenchanted” at the work of the Health Minsiter.

“Many of those individuals have made the decision to not come back in the future,” she said.

“[They] are not willing to come back when they know that we are trying to be inclusive and welcoming and provide services for everyone.”

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