Mandatory Vaccination Requirements Imminent for Federal Public Servants, Federally Regulated Transportation Sector, and Travellers

On October 6, 2021, the Canadian Federal Government announced much-anticipated, wide ranging new mandatory vaccine measures. Absent specific narrow exemptions:

  • Workers in the Core Public Administration must attest to being fully vaccinated by October 29,2021 or face measures, up to and including  unpaid leave of absence;   
  • Federally regulated transportation sector employers in air, airport, airport service, rail and railway service, and specified marine operations must implement equivalent policies with vaccination attestations and other measures by October 30, 2021;
  • Effective October 30, 2021, passengers will also require proof of full vaccination to travel by air (domestically and internationally) from Canadian airports, and on specified federally regulated Canadian train and marine services.
New Federal Policy On COVID-19 Vaccination and Its Application

Under the Policy on COVID-19 Vaccination for the Core Public Administration Including the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, all federal public servants in the Core Public Administration (which includes Schedule I and Schedule IV departments under the Financial Administration Act), and  the RCMP, must provide an attestation as to their full vaccination status by October 29, 2021. This mandate applies to all employees, including those who are teleworking, working remotely or attending government offices. Contractors who require access to federal government worksites to perform work must also be fully vaccinated, as must some internationally based public servants (based on Global Affairs Canada guidelines).

The Policy will not apply to members of the public receiving services (e.g., Service Canada, Veterans Affairs Canada, Canada Revenue Agency) or members of the Canadian Armed Forces although the Department of National Defence is expected to issue a similar directive. Likewise, Crown Corporations (such as Canada Post, CBC/ Radio Canada) and separate Agencies are being asked to implement their own policies, which are expected to reflect this federal mandate. The Canadian government has indicated it will work with all federally regulated workplaces to ensure vaccination is prioritized for their workers.

What Is Expected of Core Federal Employees

The Policy for the Core federal Public Administration will initially require an attestation by all employees as to their full vaccination status. The attestation deadline is set for October 29, 2021. Employees are required to submit their attestation, or a request for accommodation on medical or human rights related grounds, through the Government of Canada Vaccine Attestation Tracking System (“GC-VATS”). The Government has indicated that attestations will be audited and managers can ask for proof of vaccination at any time. If an attestation is found to be false, the employee may face discipline up to the point of termination.

Employees who are unable to be vaccinated due to prohibited grounds under the Canadian Human Rights Act, such as a medical contraindication, are able to request accommodation through the GC-VATS and must provide supporting documentation to their manager before the attestation deadline. Affected employees who are not fully vaccinated, or do not attest to their vaccination status by October 29, 2021, will face measures, including restrictions from entering or accessing the workplace, and may be placed on administrative leave without pay as early as November 15, 2021. Provisions are made for educating employees, before the attestation deadline. For employees who are partially vaccinated by the deadline, an additional period of 10 weeks is provided to complete full vaccination.

All measures for employees are being implemented to meet the objective of taking every reasonable precaution for the protection of employee safety, and to improve the vaccination rate across Canada of employees in the core public administration. All employees (with narrow permitted exceptions) must be vaccinated to protect themselves, colleagues and clients from COVID-19.

Requirements for Federal Transportation Employers

The Government of Canada is also requiring employers in the federally regulated air, rail, and marine transportation sectors, through Transport Canada oversight and regulation, to establish vaccination policies, by October 30, 2021 to ensure their employees are vaccinated. The mandate for federally regulated transportation sectors, according to the announcement made, will apply specifically to:

  • Airlines and airports, and other organizations who have employees who enter restricted areas of airports, such as concession and hospitality workers;
  • Federally regulated railways, and their rail crew and track employees; and
  • Marine operators with Canadian vessels that operate with 12 or more crew.

All employers operating in these sectors will be required to implement similar rigorous vaccination policies, which must:

  • Include a provision for employee attestation/declaration of their vaccination status;
  • Include a description of consequences for employees who do not comply or who falsify information; and
  • Meet standards consistent with the approach taken by the Government of Canada for the Core Public Administration.

From the announcements made it appears that that other federally regulated employers who do not fit into the categories above- interprovincial road transportation and shipping for example- are not impacted by these requirements, and are thus not expressly required to implement policies They are however being strongly encouraged to implement similar policies

Requirements for Canadian Air, Rail and Marine Travellers

The Government announced its commitment to keeping travellers safe and secure, in addition to employees in the transportation sector. Vaccine requirements will be applied very shortly- effective October 30, 2021- to Canadian air, marine and rail travellers aged 12 and older. All air passengers flying on domestic, trans-border, or international flights departing from Canadian airports, passengers on VIA Rail and Rocky Mountaineer trains, and marine passengers on non-essential passenger vessels, such as cruise ships, on voyages of 24 hours or more will be required to be fully vaccinated in order to travel after October 30, 2021. A short grace period will apply for travellers in the process of becoming fully vaccinated, with additional testing requirements (a molecular test within 72 hours of travel) being permitted. This will end November 30, 2021. Exceptions will only exist for emergency travel, and those medically unable to be vaccinated.

Expected Enforcement

Enforcement will be stringent. It has been announced that Transport Canada will oversee federal transportation employer compliance through inspections and enforcement- including Administrative Monetary Penalties- which may be imposed without any formal court process, for violations. Travellers could also be subject to fines under the Aeronautics Act, or the Railways Act, for example for failing to provide proof of vaccination, or falsifying vaccination records.

As further details respecting all of these requirements for federal public servants, and the transportation sector become available we will advise.

The authors gratefully acknowledge the assistance of Erica Herman, an Articling Student in the firm’s Toronto office.

We will continue to update our clients with information as it becomes available. If you have any questions about this topic, other COVID-19 related questions, please do not hesitate to contact a Mathews Dinsdale lawyer, or refer to the Firm’s other COVID-19 website resources.

Join us for our complimentary webinar, Federal Sector Employer Update 2021 on October 14, 2021. Agenda and Registration information here.

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