COVID vaccine mandate for Canadian military is relaxed


The Canadian Armed Forces will continue the forcible deportation of dozens of unvaccinated soldiers despite a new order from Chief of Defense General Wayne Eyre on Friday ending the military’s blanket requirement for a COVID vaccine -19.

In an interview with The Canadian Press, Eyre said the military are expected to follow lawful orders – and that some soldiers’ repeated refusal to get vaccinated “raises questions about your fitness to serve in uniform”.

“It’s dangerous in the military to disobey lawful orders,” he said. “It’s a very slippery slope.”

The comments came as Eyre released a long-awaited new vaccination policy that effectively suspends its previous requirement for all members of the Armed Forces to be fully vaccinated or face disciplinary action.

Immunizations will no longer be required for all who serve in uniform, including as a prerequisite for joining the military, but will instead be based on the roles and responsibilities of each service member.

The defense chief’s new order includes a list of those who will still need two doses of a Health Canada-approved vaccine, with a focus on rapid-response units such as special forces and the team disaster response.

There are also requirements based on deployments alongside specific allies or organizations, including those working with NATO or the United Nations, as well as all sailors on warships operating overseas.

“We must remember that a ship in the middle of the ocean does not have access to intensive medical care,” Eyre said, adding that some allies such as the United States and Japan are demanding that the military be vaccinate.

Describing his order as “interim policy”, Eyre said he ordered a review of the military’s overall approach to vaccinations. At the same time, he reserved the right to implement it again if the pandemic took another turn.

“Medical advice continues to evolve,” he said. “What is the bare minimum required to protect the force, to protect operational performance, while respecting the individual decisions that members want to make.”

The new policy follows months of pressure and questions about the Army’s vaccination mandate as a condition of employment, especially after the suspension of most other federal mandates.

The end of mandatory vaccinations for international travelers last month prompted Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre to call for an end to what he described as the military’s ‘discriminatory and unscientific vaccination mandate’.

While the vast majority of servicemen uncovered their weapons for shooting, with 96% attesting to being fully vaccinated, briefing notes prepared for Defense Minister Anita Anand in June revealed that more than 1,100 did not have it. not been.

The Ministry of Defense says around 300 servicemen were ordered to hang up their uniforms, while another 100 left voluntarily. Disciplinary procedures, including warnings and markings on personnel files, were distributed to hundreds more.

The expulsions come at a time when the military is facing a personnel crisis that Eyre says is affecting its ability to carry out missions, with around 10,000 positions currently vacant.

Conservative defense critic James Bezan accused Eyre and Anand in a statement on Friday of exacerbating the situation by “taking a hardline approach and dismissing experienced servicemen” who refused to be vaccinated.

“Instead, we urge them to consider imposing lesser administrative penalties on those who have refused to follow orders, especially given today’s warrant cancellations, and allowing them to continue serving in the Canadian Armed Forces,” he added.

The statement said nothing about Eyre’s decision to maintain vaccine requirements for some staff, and the Conservatives declined to provide additional comment.

Lawyer Phillip Millar, who represents several members of the Armed Forces who have challenged the Army’s vaccination mandate in Federal Court, echoed Bezan’s argument that Canada can ill afford to lose troops experienced.

Eyre was steadfast, however, suggesting that those who came out of uniform were unfit to serve.

“We want members of the Armed Forces who will follow lawful orders and put the safety and security of others first,” he said. “Who will accept this selfless service ΓǪ and the values ​​inherent in wearing this uniform and serving our country.”

Retired Lt. Col. Rory Fowler, who is now a military affairs lawyer, said he was not surprised the defense chief was going ahead with the planned releases, saying not to do so would be “obviously unfair”.

“It would produce an outcome that would have 200 to 300 people expelled from the CAF ΓǪ and a few hundred who took the same stance on vaccination who would remain,” Fowler said in an email.

“The CDS would be unable to credibly distinguish between the two groups. The only distinguishing feature is that the administration of the process for some proceeded more quickly than for others.”

Still, Fowler said the Army’s decision to expel unvaccinated members without going through formal court proceedings was highly questionable.

“From the beginning, the CAF cloaked the issue in terms of ‘discipline’ and obedience to orders, but took the cowardly approach of ostensibly avoiding the use of the Code of Service Discipline,” he said. declared, in reference to the disciplinary system of the army. system.

“It’s a question that needs to be asked: If this was such a serious breach of discipline, why were none of the refusals dealt with under the Code of Service Discipline? Why were none charge not been brought?”

The Department of Defense first reported that the mandate was being reviewed in June, and a draft of a revised vaccine policy obtained by the Ottawa Citizen in July suggested that vaccine requirements for the military personnel would be lifted.

The draft document, which officials say was not approved by Eyre, noted potential legal difficulties ahead in dealing with people who have been kicked out of the military due to the vaccine mandate, suggesting that ‘they could be forced to apply for re-registration.

The defense chief would not commit to any specific eligibility for re-enlistment, saying only that he would consider such requests on a case-by-case basis.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on October 14, 2022.