Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland Wednesday detailed a vaccination program for federal employees exempting over 200,000 workers without mandating immunization proof. Exempted employees include call centre operators, federal judges, meat inspectors, park wardens, postal workers, tax auditors, Commons and Senate staff, soldiers, sailors and aircrew, and public members entering federal buildings.

"The Canadian public service is vast," said Freeland. "We are Canada's biggest employer." With 300,540 federal public service employees, the Treasury Board in a Policy On COVID-19 Vaccination said numerous exemptions would cover some 212,000 employees, reported Blacklock's.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, on September 28, proposed a blanket policy on compulsory vaccination. "We are going to ensure the federal public service is vaccinated," he said. "There is a clear requirement for vaccination for anyone who works for the federal government."

"The policy applies to all public servants in the core public administration," an official said at a Treasury Board press briefing. The distinction exempts employees of Crown corporations such as postal workers and staff at federal agencies such as meat inspectors with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

RCMP, border agents and correctional officers are included, while Parks Canada wardens and the Canadian Armed Forces are excluded. Workers at federal departments that deal directly with the public and cannot be short-staffed are exempt. These include the Department of Veterans Affairs employees, staff that manage call centres for benefits claims at the Department of Employment, and tax processors and auditors at the Canada Revenue Agency.

The Treasury Board said employees in "core public administration" who are included in the order could comply by filing an electronic statement claiming they are vaccinated without proof or claim an exemption under the Canadian Human Rights Act on religious or medical grounds. "Why not ask for proof?" said a Treasury Board official who commented on the condition of anonymity. "Provinces and territories are responsible."

"If we have to show proof of vaccination to enter a restaurant, why is the Government of Canada not expecting to have the same policy?" asked a reporter. "They are asked if they have received their vaccination," replied an official.

The largest federal union, the 160,000-member Public Service Alliance of Canada, yesterday said the policy was announced "without meaningful consultation" and that "the Treasury Board gave unions less than a single business day to provide feedback."

"How it is applied matters," the Alliance said in a statement. "We know increasing vaccination rates is the best and most reliable way to slow the spread of COVID-19 in our workplaces and our communities and encourage our members to be vaccinated. However, if the goal is to keep the workplace healthy and safe, this policy still falls short."