Kootenay-Columbia MP Rob Morrison. Photo courtesy Conservative Party of Canada.

COVID-19 vaccine mandate suspension ‘a quarter of a step forward,’ says MP Morrison

Kootenay Columbia MP Rob Morrison calls the suspension of federal COVID-19 vaccine mandates “a quarter of a step forward.”

Effective June 20, the federal government will suspend the pandemic mandates, which apply to domestic and outbound travel, as well as federally regulated transport sectors and federal government employees. For anyone who has not been vaccinated against COVID-19, inbound travel into Canada still requires a 14-day quarantine period and testing.

Masking remains mandatory on planes, trains and ships.

“We’ve got a grip on COVID, let’s open up businesses, tourism, hospitality and let’s get back to work and start making this country great like it once was,” said Morrison, a Conservative Party MP, speaking from Ottawa via Zoom during a press conference at his constituency office in Cranbrook.

According to the latest update from Public Health Agency of Canada, there were 9,635 COVID-19 cases reported across Canada between May 29 to June 4, as the national case rate per 100,000 continues to trend downwards.

Additionally, the federal government says 32 million Canadians have been vaccinated against COVID-19.

“The mandatory vaccination requirement successfully mitigated the full impact of COVID-19 for travellers and workers in the transportation sector and provided broader protection to our communities,” said federal transport minister Omar Alghabra in a news release.

“Suspending this requirement is possible thanks to the tens of millions of Canadians who did the right thing: they stepped up, rolled up their sleeves, and got vaccinated. This action will support Canada’s transportation system as we recover from the pandemic.”

The federal government also announced it is no longer moving forward on proposed labour regulations making COVID-19 vaccination mandatory and federal employees who had been placed on unpaid leave may return to work.

While the mandates will be suspended in the coming days, the feds have left the door open for reimplementation if the COVID-19 landscape changes for the worse.

The federal NDP have also called for transparency on the decision to suspend the mandates and noted that the suspension will do little to ease delays and crowding at airports.

“Airport staff are bearing the brunt of this crisis. They’re over-worked, underpaid and facing issues like excessive overtime and missed breaks,” said Taylor Bachrach, NDP Transport Critic.

Decriminalization of personal posession of drugs

Health Canada recently approved an application from British Columbia requesting an exemption to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act that decriminalizes personal possession of 2.5 grams of street drugs effective Jan. 31, 2023.

While a provincial request, it required federal approval, which was granted to much fanfare by politicians, as well as criticism from drug user advocates who say the measures don’t go far enough.

Morrison, who formerly served in the RCMP, said B.C. RCMP and municipal police forces haven’t been charging on personal possession.

However, he panned the move towards decriminalization.

“Personally, I think the strategy should be getting people off of the opioids, these illicit drugs, not have them continue using,” Morrison said.

To wit, Morrison said a Conservative colleague recently sponsored a private member’s bill that he had been working on in the last parliamentary session, and had been waiting to introduce before the federal election was called.

The bill would provide a judge the option to send a convicted repeat offender with a substance use disorder to a prison designated as an “addiction treatment facility” with programs geared specifically towards detox and rehabilitation.

“This is a full-time program and it’s geared so that after a two-year period when these individuals come out, they’re not going to be hardened criminals like some of organized crime and gang members we have in regular prisons … these prisons are designated for addictions, “said Morrison.

First reading of Bill-C283 was completed in the House of Commons on June 14.

During the decriminalization press conference, both federal and provincial ministers emphasized that the policy is aimed at decriminalizing people rather than the legalization of drug use.

Decriminalization removes the fear of criminal charges and stigma on drug use, which is part of the province’s strategy to build out a system of care, according to Sheila Malcolmson, B.C.’s minister of mental health and addictions.