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Changes made, but North Battleford’s COVID-19 restrictions still stand

Proof of vaccination requirements upheld, but new exemptions passed including for those 18 years of age and under
Council vote on proof of vax
Councillors Len Taylor, Bill Ironstand and Kent Lindgren raise their hands at Monday’s meeting to defeat Kelli Hawtin’s amendment that would have reversed the city’s new proof of vaccination policies. The amendment fell on a 3-3 tie vote with Greg Lightfoot (top corner left) abstaining.

NORTH BATTLEFORD — The City of North Battleford’s plan to extend COVID-19 proof of vaccination or negative test requirements throughout its facilities on Nov. 30 is intact after Monday’s council meeting. 

But changes were made to some of the requirements, the key one allows an exemption to the policy for those 18 years of age and under.

The requirements were under heavy scrutiny at a marathon council meeting, where council teetered on the edge of reversing the proof of vax rules it had approved Nov. 8.

In the end, council opted to keep the proof of vax rules by the slimmest of margins, but there will be adjustments when they take effect Nov. 30.

Council voted in favour of three exemptions to the new restrictions. The first called for an exemption for health-care related rentals, such as vaccination clinics or blood donation clinics as examples. 

The second vote was in favour of providing an exemption for religious and worship services. It turned out that the Northland Power Curling Centre actually had a regular rental for religious services. City Manager Randy Patrick explained the proof of vaccination restrictions could impact on religious freedom and be a Charter issue in that case, and the suggestion was to default to the provincial requirements in those cases.

The third vote, which passed unanimously, exempts those 18 and under from the new requirements. That addressed concerns raised by several councillors at the meeting that youth would be restricted from participation.

These exemptions will be added to the new double-vaccination/negative test requirements that are due to take effect next week. The rules apply to the following city facilities: NationsWEST Field House, Northland Power Curling Centre, Dekker Centre, Don Ross Centre, Battlefords Co-op Aquatic Centre and Access Communications Centre.

The changes capped a contentious and lengthy meeting which saw council sharply divided on the proof of vaccination issue.

Prior to the vote, council heard presentations from two delegations. The first was from Edam resident Heidi Sulatisky, a user of the CUplex, who expressed her strong opposition to the requirements.

Council also heard from two representatives from the Saskatchewan Health Authority, Dr. Erin Hamilton and Medical Health Officer Dr. Mandiangu Nsungu. During their presentation the SHA representatives expressed support for the city’s measures to address the pandemic, and answered several questions from councillors.

Council then turned to the issue of whether to introduce exemptions to the policy. Fireworks quickly erupted when Councillor Kelli Hawtin introduced an amendment that would have required the city to follow the provincial medical health guidelines and public health restrictions only, with no additional measures at city facilities for the duration of the pandemic.

Councillor Kent Lindgren quickly objected, saying the amendment" changes the very nature of the motion.”

Council quickly fell into two camps, with councillors Lindgren, Bill Ironstand and Len Taylor supporting keeping the restrictions intact as well as the exemptions before council, while also voicing opposition to Hawtin’s amendment. They made the point that they saw the amendment as, in essence, a reversal of council’s Nov. 8 decision to bring in the proof of vax/negative test requirements.

“This is not an amendment. This is really going against keeping our community safe at a higher level than what the province might be doing,” said Lindgren. He said he believed it was within the city's powers to bring the requirements in, and not simply leave it up to the province.

"I am not about saying 'not it' anymore. This is part of what we are elected to do is make hard decisions and not put it off on somebody else."

Ironstand, who has been a strong proponent of the new proof of vax restrictions, accused council of disregarding the health advice they had heard from the SHA officials earlier.

“We are talking about this amendment that completely ignores what the medical experts just told us," said Ironstand. “We are playing politics here, for some reason, with our community’s health. I don’t understand it, I do not agree with it, I will not support this in any way shape or form.”

Hawtin later challenged the idea that they weren’t listening to the experts, saying the health experts’ recommendations were already covered by the province’s measures.

“Those measures currently exist by the province. They have been seen to be working,” said Hawtin, who made the argument that health policy was a legislative responsibility of the province.

She also expressed concern that users of North Battleford facilities would leave and use arenas in Battleford and elsewhere where the policies don’t exist.

“What in essence what have we done? What have we accomplished? We have accomplished displacing our organizations out of our city, but the activities still occur,” said Hawtin.

Mayor David Gillan and Councillor Ross MacAngus were more supportive of Hawtin’s amendment. MacAngus had voted in favour of the proof of vax restrictions at the Nov. 8 meeting, but he reported he had received phone calls expressing concerns about the impact on youth.

On the fence was Councillor Greg Lightfoot, whose primary concern was the impact of the restrictions on youth and extracurricular sports, and possible mental health impacts. Instead of supporting Hawtin’s amendment, he proposed another option: exempting those 18 and under from the new policy at facilities.

Lightfoot also admitted to feeling conflicted on the whole issue. “I really wish we weren’t put in this position to make these decisions, which I believe is a health authority decision, not a city council decision.”

In the end, the vote on Hawtin’s amendment ended up a 3-3 tie and, by rule, was defeated. It was a recorded vote, with Hawtin, MacAngus and Mayor David Gillan voting in favour of the amendment and Lindgren, Ironstand and Taylor against, with Lightfoot declaring he was abstaining. 

Council then turned to their original resolutions on whether to add exemptions. For the exemptions for health-care related rentals and religious services, six councillors voted in favour, but Hawtin abstained, citing that these exemptions were already fundamentally covered by the provincial regulations. 

The final vote to exempt those 18 and under carried unanimously. 

The next step is for the new policies to take effect next week, and the policies will be reviewed on a monthly basis by council. 

According to a city news release Tuesday, as of Nov. 30 people can expect the following policies to be in effect:

All patrons 19 years of age and older are required to present proof of full vaccination or provincially approved negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours to access the following:

  • Battlefords Co-op Aquatic Centre
  • Northland Power Curling Centre
  • Access Communications Centre
  • Don Ross Community Centre
  • Don Ross Arena
  • Dekker Centre for the Performing Arts

Acceptable proof of vaccination includes:

  • QR code on a mobile phone (screenshot from MySaskHealthRecord or SK Vax Wallet app)
  • QR code printed from MySaskHealthRecord
  • COVID-19 vaccine certificate printed from MySaskHealthRecord
  • Wallet cards received at time of immunization (Saskatchewan Health Authority or Indigenous Services Canada)
  • Proof (electronic or in writing) issued by another province, territory or government.

For proof of negative COVID-19 testing, any of the following tests administered at a testing site approved by the Minister of Health will be considered acceptable:

  • A polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test for SARS-CoV-2
  • A point-of-care antigen test for SARS-CoV-2
  • Any other test for SARS-CoV-2 approved by the minister of Health

The venues will not be accepting self-administered rapid antigen tests, according to the city, as those tests are for self-monitoring/testing purposes only.