Two anti-vaccine health care workers at a demonstration in Montreal in September. Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough doesn’t think people fired for refusing to get vaccinated should be eligible for employment insurance.Photo by Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press/Files

Chris Selley: Canadians are enjoying firing the unvaccinated far too much

It can’t be pointed out enough how recently Justin Trudeau thought it was unfair to bar the unvaccinated from a Toronto Raptors game, never mind from gainful employment

by · National Post

Thursday evening on television, Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough told CBC’s Katie Simpson that she didn’t think people fired for refusing to get vaccinated should be eligible for employment insurance. “If you choose to leave your job for that reason, my current thinking and the current advice I’m getting is you won’t qualify for EI,” Qualtrough said.

There was no “unfortunately.” No hint of sympathy. Her tone and affect were borderline chipper.

Simpson then asked if Qualtrough was actively trying to ensure such people would not receive EI. “Absolutely,” the minister responded. “It’s a condition of employment that hasn’t been met.”

It’s true, of course, that people fired for cause aren’t eligible for severance or EI. In workplaces where government vaccination mandates apply, it’s likely employees are at their bosses’ mercy. But Qualtrough, her fellow ministers and the rest of the Pro-Vax Army need to take a step back and think about what the hell they’re doing here.

This week, British Columbia Health Minister Adrian Dix announced that 5,012 health-care workers, or four per cent of the total, still haven’t gotten their first doses, with an Oct. 26 deadline bearing down on them. B.C. already put four per cent of its long-term care-home workforce on unpaid leave on Oct. 12, for lack of vaccination.

In Quebec, so many health-care workers had yet to be vaccinated by a mid-October deadline — seven per cent! — that the province extended the deadline to Nov. 15. That’s the same day the federal public service has warned it will start putting unvaccinated employees on unpaid leave.

One thing on which we should probably all be able to agree: These people are sincere in their objections. You don’t choose unemployment out of an antisocial fit of pique — especially if you’re a low-paid immigrant who doesn’t have a lot of other marketable skills, which is very possibly the reality in some of these cases.

In the early days of the vaccination drive, Canadian government officials and media outlets were very careful never to blame the hesitant. There were cultural considerations that meant certain communities needed to be cajoled and reassured, we were told, and if our cajoling and reassurances weren’t working, well, that was our fault for not understanding, and we needed to try harder. Nowadays many commentators are perfectly happy to vent spleen on those same people.

Nevertheless, some of their reasons remain perfectly understandable. Statistics Canada reported last year that in 2016, 36 per cent of Canada’s nurse aides, orderlies and patient service associates were immigrants, and of those 30 per cent each were Black and Filipino. We know demographics are similar in the long-term care industry.

Vaccine resistance is a huge problem in the Philippines, thanks in large part to a bungled rollout of the world’s first-ever Dengue fever vaccine in 2016. (It is a grimly fascinating tale, offering many potential warnings that went unheeded during the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.) There has been much reporting about hesitancy in Canada’s Black community as well, usually citing an understandable mistrust of authorities. Earlier this year, Statistics Canada found just 56 per cent of Black Canadians were “very or somewhat willing to receive the COVID-19 vaccine,” as opposed to 77 per cent overall.

That survey also found 75 per cent of Filipino Canadians were willing, so take any of these narratives and explanations with a grain of salt. Widespread reporting on vaccine hesitancy among Indigenous Canadians turned out to have been so much bunk . I don’t mean to single out minority communities, either: The wealthy, white organic-only shopper and naturopathic clinic member is a leading skeptic demographic as well.

The point is, it’s hardly unfathomable that even now, otherwise reasonable people are refusing to drink the miracle juice. Perhaps governments that told us masks don’t work and foisted byzantine, clearly political and often downright asinine rules on us for the better part of two years should not be surprised to find that some of us just aren’t willing to listen anymore.

It can’t be pointed out enough how recently Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was musing that it would be inequitable to bar the unvaccinated even from a Toronto Raptors game, never mind from gainful employment in their field. It can’t be pointed out enough that the reason mandatory vaccination became Liberal policy was because strategists saw it as a valuable wedge issue in an election that Trudeau was insistent on having. There are all sorts of valid grounds on which to support vaccine mandates, and of course it’s not just the federal government implementing them. But Qualtrough is in a key position to decide how the collateral damage is handled. On Thursday night she seemed downright chuffed at the prospect of denying those put out of a job, and their children, a livelihood.

There is much concern among Canadian elites over the radicalization of the individualist Canadian right. That’s not generally who’s getting fired from hospitals and LTC homes, but it’s who’s marching in the streets, protesting outside of hospitals and chucking handfuls of gravel at the prime minister. It’s difficult to think of a more efficient way to cultivate that discontent and turn it into rage than by firing thousands of people because their personal medical decisions are unpopular, and not even offering them a few hundred bucks a week to help them get back on their feet.

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