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Canadian military poised to end vaccine mandate

Service members will no longer have to attest to their vaccine status and new recruits will no longer have to be fully vaccinated to enrol in the Canadian Armed Forces.

Canadian Forces members discharged from service because they disobeyed an order to get vaccinated against COVID-19 will have the opportunity to re-enrol, according to leaked details of the military’s revised vaccination policy.

That policy, expected to be unveiled later this summer, will put an end to the military’s vaccine mandate, which was introduced in October 2021.

Under the updated policy, service members will no longer have to attest to their vaccine status and new recruits will no longer have to be fully vaccinated to enrol in the Canadian Armed Forces.

The directive from Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Wayne Eyre will bring the military into alignment with the federal government’s updated vaccination policy.

Last month, the government ended the vaccine requirement for all civil servants and RCMP members. As of June 20, unvaccinated civil servants forced to take leave without pay were allowed to return to work.

Ending the vaccine mandate in the Canadian military is not so simple.

A draft copy of the new COVID-19 vaccination directive from the chief of the defence staff, obtained by this newspaper, notes: “Suspending the requirement for CAF members to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 will require significant administrative effort to address the files of members who were not compliant with the CDS directives on CAF COVID-19 vaccination.”

About 96 per cent of Canada’s military personnel were fully vaccinated, but more than 1,300 members requested exemptions from the vaccination order for religious, medical or other reasons.

At least 1,000 exemption requests were denied. Some of those involved have already been discharged, while others remain at different stages of the military’s discipline and grievance process.

According to figures released Thursday by the Department of National Defence, 105 Canadian Armed Forces members were approved for voluntary release based primarily on their opposition to the vaccine mandate. Another 241 CAF members have been released “non-voluntarily.” Another 434 CAF members are involved in administrative reviews that could lead to being released in the future.

Those members who have had their cases go through administrative reviews and face future release dates will be discharged from the military, according to the new draft policy.

Similarly, those who have been served with a notice of release — and are still waiting for administrative reviews — will have to abide by the decisions made during those reviews.

Other discipline procedures being conducted against unvaccinated service members will be ended, but paperwork connected to those cases will remain on personnel files, according to the draft policy.

The updated policy allows those released from the military due to their vaccination status to apply for re-enrolment. Those who received a 5(f) release — it means a member was deemed “unsuitable for further service” — will require waivers from the chief of the defence staff.

Edmonton lawyer Catherine Christensen, a military law specialist, called the re-enrolment provision “smoke and mirrors.”

“Because the only person who can re-admit someone who has been released under a 5(f) is the chief of the defence staff,” Christensen said, “and I don’t think someone who has gotten rid of so many people from a very short-handed military is now about to allow these people to come back.”

Christensen is building a class action lawsuit on behalf of almost 300 former Canadian Forces members released because of their vaccine status. That lawsuit will seek hundreds of millions of dollars in damages based on what Christensen alleges was an abuse of power.

“These people have lost income, promotions and pensions,” she said. “These people being released are outstanding soldiers. It’s unbelievable the quality of the people the military is losing.”

Christensen said her lawsuit included people from all branches of the military and a disproportionate number of fighter pilots. She estimates the country has forfeited almost $1 billion in training costs because of vaccine-related discharges.

One discharged soldier, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said it saddened him to see so many people leave the military because of the vaccine mandate.

“Plainly said, the vaccines don’t work as well as they once purported to,” said the soldier, a 20-year veteran. “They don’t protect us from the virus very well. Even vaccinated people are still at risk. We know that now. So why try and pretend that the CAF is doing the world a favour and eliminating strong, healthy and dedicated soldiers from the organization?”

A Department of National Defence spokeswoman said Thursday the military was reviewing the October 2021 directive on COVID-19 vaccination. That directive, she said, remains in effect “until further notice.”

The end of vaccine mandates comes amid a cresting seventh wave of COVID-19, a wave being driven by the BA.5 Omicron subvariant, a highly transmissible version of the virus.

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