EDMONTON—Alberta Premier Danielle Smith says that she’s personally calling event organizers and businesses with vaccine mandates in place and asking them to reconsider.
The premier’s comments came Monday in response to questions from reporters about her government’s decision not to follow through on her promise to protect unvaccinated people under the province’s Human Rights Act in the legislative session that’s starting this week.
Smith outlined how she’ll consider making changes on a “case-by-case” basis, when she hears of what she deems to be vaccine discrimination.
When she hears that events or businesses have vaccine mandates, the Alberta premier or one of her ministers will call and ask them to reconsider, Smith said at a news conference.
Smith pointed to the Arctic Winter Games, a circumpolar sporting event, which wanted $1.2 million in support from her government.
“They were discriminating against the athletes, telling them they needed to be vaccinated,” Smith said. “We asked them if they would reconsider their vaccination policy in the light of new evidence and they did, and I was pleased to see that.”
It was not clear what the premier meant by “new evidence.”
Smith added there was a film set she had heard about that was “discriminating against its hairdressers” and so she directed a minister to “give them a phone call.”
Alberta NDP justice critic Irfan Sabir slammed the government for using “threatening” tactics.
“They are exclusively responsible for spending and allocating public dollars,” he said of the government. “For the government of the day to call businesses, to call non-profits and threatening them that if they don’t drop mandates, if they don’t drop public health measures, their funding will be cut … it should not be happening.”
In response to a query from the Star, the Arctic Winter Games organization sent a news release from Nov. 18 that stated its intention to revoke the mandatory vaccine requirement for its Wood Buffalo 2023 Arctic Winter Games.
“The AWGIC does support any jurisdiction who wishes to enforce its own requirements, including other health measures related to COVID-19,” said John Rodda, the Arctic Winter Games International Committee president, in the release.
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“We would respect the autonomy of this as a team decision.”
It said the committee “recognizes that public health circumstances have evolved.”
Smith had promised to protect the unvaccinated under the Human Rights Act through an amendment and had also said during her first week as Alberta premier that unvaccinated people were the most discriminated against group she’d ever seen.
“If there is still discrimination, I’d like to know about it and people should contact their MLAs,” Smith said Monday in response to questions from reporters.
“My sense of where we’re at right now in Alberta is that most employers have made the responsible decision to not discriminate against their workers, and I’m glad to see that.”
To be clear, protecting unvaccinated people under the Human Rights Act doesn’t appear to be fully off the table. But Smith said she’ll be looking at a broader suite of reforms and will have more to say in the coming weeks.
It’s a significant shift for Smith who, last month, told a crowd in Edmonton that any businesses still with vaccine mandates should be ready for the imminent human rights code change in the name of freedom.
“I just want to sort of give you fair warning that we are going to be making a serious pivot in that regard,” Smith said at the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce on Oct. 20.
“We want to send the message to the community and to the world community, to the investment markets, that this is a place that is open for business, that this is a place that believes in freedom.”
On Tuesday, there will be a speech from the Throne in the Alberta legislature, marking the first day the legislature sits under its new premier since Jason Kenney stepped down.
The government plans to introduce the Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act, an affordability measures bill, changes to the Police Act and legislative changes around property rights.
Kieran Leavitt is an Edmonton-based political reporter for the Toronto Star. Follow him on Twitter: @kieranleavitt
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