An Orillia pilot has decided that he won't get a COVID-19 vaccine even if it means losing his job.
The pilot, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to fears of backlash, works as a 'first officer pilot' for Air Canada. The airline notified all staff the company had decreed that every employee should have their first dose of the vaccine registered by Sept. 8.
If they chose not to do so, they would not be on the November schedule. They were told they must be fully vaccinated by the end of October. Employees who do not comply would be put on a six-month leave of absence with no pay and no benefits.
Employment status would then be reassessed after six months, implying termination is likely, said the Orillia man.
“It’s obviously a big blow. This is a career that I love and it’s a real privilege to do what I do for a living,” he said.
“This comes at a big cost to my family. I’ve had to move all over Canada, and it takes a lot to get to where I’m at and there are no guarantees to even make it to the position that I’m in. To have all that thrown away is pretty disheartening.”
He says his union has decided to side with the company on the vaccine mandate, leaving him with no legal avenue to pursue until he is terminated.
The Air Canada Pilots Association (ACPA) acting chairman, Captain Rob Weiser, says the Orillia's man stance appears to be an anomaly among Air Canada pilots as well over 90 percent of pilots have reported to the company that they are vaccinated.
"ACPA is working to ensure that the legitimate rights of those members who elect not to get vaccinated are protected within the employment and legal frameworks that exist for us to do so," he said in a written statement to OrilliaMatters.
Weiser says the ACPA is ensuring the company upholds the terms and conditions of the collective agreement and human rights legislation in the application of its policy, particularly as it relates to leaves of absence and the termination process.
"Members are being treated fairly, the privacy of members is duly considered, and assistance is being provided to members who believe they meet the requirements for accommodation on a legally protected, enumerated ground," he wrote.
The pilot says the only way to save his job is to get the vaccine, which he refuses to do.
“Personally, I see some concerns with this (vaccine) and to me, I’m trying to speak up about this mandate because once you’ve mandated it and everyone has got it you can’t go back,” he explained.
“The vaccine has shown to not reduce transmission after three months which would be the whole reasoning to force someone to get the vaccine to protect other people," said the Orillia man, adding he’s done a lot of research and has found many variables that have made him uncomfortable about getting vaccinated.
“Everyone should be free to make a decision of what goes in their body without intimidation. I feel the importance for me to get it is because of intimidation and ... not for my health ..." he explained.
He says his wife has fully supported his decision to not get vaccinated, but he admits other family members have expressed their concern with his decision.
“They say 'hey, you have a great career and you are giving up a really good job and the ability to provide for your family'. That weighs really heavy on me because obviously, this is everything I’ve worked for,” he said.
“This isn’t a regular paying job. It’s a job that I have the privilege of really enjoying. It allows me to go and fly a plane and travel. I don’t take it lightly that I won’t be able to do anything else like this job by doing what I sincerely think is better for others," he said.
"If it was selfish motivation, I would just go get the vaccine and keep my job. It would be a lot easier to make that choice.”
The veteran pilot encourages airline employees and passengers who agree with his stance to support the Free 2 Fly website which supports airline workers like him and passengers who believe they have the right to travel without being vaccinated.