As Justin Trudeau pushes for mandatory vaccination of federal public servants and those working in federally regulated sectors, a Department of National Defence web page tells employees that while vaccination is encouraged, management “cannot require a public servant to get a vaccine, nor is mandatory vaccination supported under Canadian law.”

Assurances that the COVID-19 vaccination is voluntary have been on the web page since at least March, a review of archived versions shows. However, as the website has been updated over the course of the year, more information about employees’ rights has been added.

On Wednesday, a section was added to the top of the page notifying Department of National Defence staff and enlisted Canadian Armed Forces members of the government’s forthcoming vaccine mandate, but the former information – which says such a mandate is unlawful – remains in place.

This comes one day after Trudeau said at a Markham, Ont. campaign stop that there would be “consequences” for federal employees who refuse to get vaccinated, though he declined to say what these would be.

Trudeau says all affected workers must be vaccinated unless they have a medical or religious exemption. The Conservatives say they encourage people to get vaccinated, but believe “Canadians have the right to make their own healthcare decisions.” Their plan would give federal public servants a choice between getting vaccinated or undergoing frequent rapid testing.

While the Liberals have criticized this proposal for not going far enough, it aligned with a document circulating from the federal treasury board, the central agency that technically employs public servants. When reporters pointed out that the government seemed to be adopting the Conservative plan, the Treasury Board Secretariat pulled the letter, which Trudeau said contained “erroneous” information.”

The Department of National Defence FAQ page not only tells employees vaccination is a choice, but also offers unvaccinated public service employees advice on how to handle “stigmatization” in the workplace from vaccinated colleagues.

“There will be no negative impacts to your employment or your career should you choose not to receive the COVID-19 vaccine,” the website says. “DND respects the rights of their employees. In accordinate with current information from government and public health officials, the COVID-19 vaccine will be voluntary but is recommended for everyone’s safety to decrease the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace.”

The website goes on to say employees “experiencing negative reactions” from coworkers should notify a manager so that “appropriate mitigation measures” can be taken.

Another section on the website says “employees are not required to disclose to anyone whether or not they have been vaccinated as this is private medical information.”


  • Andrew Lawton

    A Canadian broadcaster and columnist, Andrew serves as a journalism fellow at True North and host of The Andrew Lawton Show.