An impassioned crowd filled the public gallery of the legislature on Nov. 1 for the presentation of a petition calling on the government to reconsider its plan to require all government employees to be vaccinated.
“I’m quite optimistic that the government will have to change his policy, at least partially,” said Jonas Smith, who organized the petition and the accompanying rallies that took place on Nov. 1 and 2 outside the legislature, where people held signs and spoke opposing the COVID-19 vaccines.
Smith is a former Conservative Party candidate who ran as an independent in the last federal election after losing his candidacy over his view on vaccines.
“I felt that I had a duty to use my experience and political platform I’d built to try to raise awareness for these people’s positions,” he said. “I’m just trying to channel people’s energy and passion in productive ways to the best of my ability and to try to affect positive change.”
At the start of the sitting on Monday, deputy speaker Annie Blake reminded gallery guests to wear their masks. Jeering from some in the crowd resulted in a number of MLAs leaving the chamber and a 15-minute recess being called.
During the recess, legislature clerk Dan Cable exchanged words with the packed gallery, including a back-and-forth with a woman who asked why the MLAs on the floor were not required to wear masks.
Cable explained that physical distancing was in place and there was a need to pick up their voices on the microphone, before declining to further debate the policy with the gallery.
Following the recess, the legislature resumed.
|Demonstrators march from the Elijah Smith building to the legislature on Nov. 2 to protest mandatory vaccine policies. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)|
The petition, which contains around 2,300 signatures, was introduced by Yukon Party MLA Patti McLeod on behalf of Smith.
“The concept of a two-tiered society, the discrimination and exclusion of people based on their confidential health care information and their natural rights to informed consent, medical choice, bodily-autonomy or religious/ethical/moral freedoms, and the use of coercion to usurp these rights, is inconsistent with a free, inclusive society or a democratic government,” reads the petition.
It also asks for the government to “immediately rescind any and all requirements for mandatory COVID-19 vaccination.”
When McLeod introduced the petition, the crowd clapped — another violation of proceedings — but the sitting was not interrupted. The crowd filtered out as the MLAs addressed other topics.
Under the legislature’s protocols, the petition was “read and received” on Nov. 2 and the government will have to respond to it within eight sitting days.
Following the legislature sitting, Premier Sandy Silver said he was disappointed by the yelling in the legislative assembly.
“Anybody from the public is welcome to be in the gallery. But the gallery is not for participation, it is to listen,” he said.
Silver said he was also disappointed in the Yukon Party’s decision to bring the petition forward, saying that it was “undermining public health.”
Yukon Party leader Currie Dixon said the party supports the science behind vaccines and encourages all Yukoners to get vaccinated. He said mandatory vaccine policies go too far in a small jurisdiction like the Yukon.
“I’ve said all along that I think vaccinations are the best path forward for the territory,” he said. “I do have discomfort with the idea of making those vaccinations mandatory and obligatory.”
Contact Haley Ritchie at firstname.lastname@example.org