More than 200 Toronto police employees are officially off the job after they failed to get their COVID-19 shots or refused to provide their vaccination status by deadline — a number representing less than three per cent of the total workforce.
Effective immediately, 117 uniformed police officers and 88 civilian employees have been placed on an “indefinite unpaid absence,” either because they did not get fully vaccinated by the Nov. 30 deadline, or failed to disclose their status, Toronto police said Tuesday. Either way, these employees “rendered themselves unable to perform their duties,” a police statement said.
Announced in October, the force’s decision to take unvaccinated officers off the streets has been hailed by public health experts, who have said police must be vaccinated in part because citizens often can’t just walk away from interactions with officers.
The move was criticized Tuesday by the Toronto Police Association. While the union has said it encouraged officers to get vaccinated, it has said it also has the duty to represent all TPA members, regardless of their vaccination status.
“The TPA is disappointed that the Toronto Police Service has placed our members on unpaid leave for making the decision to not disclose, or not be vaccinated,” said TPA president Jon Reid, saying these officers “selflessly served the community during the entirety of the pandemic.”
The number of Toronto police employees going on unpaid leave represents just 2.7 per cent of Toronto Police Service’s 7,415 employees, the rest of whom are fully vaccinated. Once employees get both doses and disclose this status to the force, they will be allowed to come back on the job, Toronto police said.
Despite having more than 100 fewer uniform officers on the job, Toronto police Chief James Ramer said in a statement that front-line and priority response will be prioritized “to ensure public safety is not impacted during this period.”
“I want to assure the public that the Service is doing its part to protect the communities we serve and thank our members who have been vaccinated,” Ramer said.
Allison Sparkes, a spokesperson for the Toronto police, said 36 of the 117 officers now on unpaid absences are considered “front-line.” Sparkes added that these officers are from different shifts from divisions across the city — meaning no one police station or area will be disproportionately impacted.
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“The Service will redeploy officers if and where needed to maintain front-line and priority response,” Sparkes said, adding that with vaccine disclosures still coming in “we expect the number will continue to drop over the coming days.”
Toronto police announced its policy stating that employees who hadn’t received both doses of a COVID-19 vaccine by Nov. 30 would be placed on unpaid leave. These employees will also not be permitted to enter Toronto police buildings or facilities and since October have been ineligible for promotion to supervisory or management positions.
Julius Haag, a University of Toronto criminologist who researches policing, said that given vaccine mandates have been announced with some lead time, public sector employers like Toronto police have had some time to anticipate any impact on staffing.
“It’s positive that these numbers aren’t extremely high,” he said.
This summer, the TPA said it opposed the service making vaccination mandatory for all officers, due to what it said was missing critical details.
In October, the TPA filed a grievance alleging that the Chief’s order and policy is “unreasonable,” according to an email sent to members. The grievance is expected to go to an arbitrator.
In his statement Tuesday, Reid said the TPA is seeking “alternative compliance options, including testing” for unvaccinated officers, moves it says have been adopted by other police forces across Canada.
Other police services in Ontario have made vaccination a condition of employment, including Waterloo and London police services, who have said workers will be placed on unpaid leave if not vaccinated by a certain date.
Wendy Gillis is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and policing for the Star. Reach her by email at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter: @wendygillis
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