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Liberal MPs largely in favour of dropping vaccine mandate: source

"I don’t think there are many countries in the world where even for domestic flights, you have to be fully vaccinated now."

Roberto Wakerell-Cruz Montreal QC

Liberal MPs are growing tired of the Trudeau travel vaccine mandates, with the majority of the caucus now willing to allow the unvaccinated to board domestic flights.

According to The Hill Times, most caucus members now want all federal pandemic restrictions dropped as soon as possible.

Several MPs spoke to the outlet on a not-for-attribution basis to protect their identity.

"The massive majority of Liberal MPs want the mandates to end," said one Liberal MP. "People are saying 'What the hell, why are [unvaccinated] people not allowed to fly domestic, you know, like, at least let them fly domestic with masks on. You can go into a shopping mall with them, you can go into an elevator with them, you can go into a movie theatre with them.'"

Liberal MP and medical doctor Marcus Powlowski also said that the vaccine mandate for air travel should be scrapped.

"The need for mandates is certainly changed and the calculus is not the same now as it was two months ago, three months, or six months ago," he said in an interview with The Hill Times. "I would suggest that the vaccine requirements for being on planes and at workplaces at the moment, I don’t think the benefits of that mandate warrant the cost."

Powlowski said that masks should still be mandatory while on board a plane, however.

"On the other hand, the mask mandate for flying, for example, I think is still warranted, if you’re gonna sit beside someone for two hours or six hours," he said. "It’s everyone, whether you’re vaccinated or [not], and especially if you’re going to put a bunch of people on the plane, some of whom are non-vaccinated and things, then there is increased risk. So I would probably keep the mask mandate, that would be my opinion."

Another Liberal MP, Nate Erskine-Smith, spoke out publicly via Twitter, where he said that he believed the two-dose vaccine mandate "without accommodation is no longer justified."

"Nothing about the re-evaluation of travel-related measures has been transparent. It is not clear what Dr. Tam’s recommendations are, and there’s been no adequate justification provided for continuing the exclusive two-dose mandate," he wrote.

Erskine-Smith said last week that mandates were put into place to increase vaccination rates and reduce the risk of transmission, but that the Liberal government's mandate has exhausted its usefulness.

Last month, Conservative MP Melissa Lantsman put forward a motion that called for a return to pre-pandemic COVID restrictions, dropping all restrictions. That motion was defeated 202 to 117, with the Liberals, Bloc, and NDP all voting against it.

MPs speaking to The Hill Times said that the issue had been raised in caucus numerous times, but that no answer was given as to why Canada's domestic travel restrictions stay in place.

"The answer is, 'We’re listening to science and experts,'" the anonymous MP said. "That’s been the message from the very beginning."

"People are comparing our jurisdiction to international jurisdictions: I don’t think there are many countries in the world where even for domestic flights, you have to be fully vaccinated now," said a fourth MP. "The numbers have adjusted drastically, and we’ve stabilized the situation. No. 3, the pressure on the healthcare system has diminished. And No. 4, there’s a level of frustration now from people because, they can go into a restaurant and sit next to each other for two hours, they can be on a subway for an hour, but they can’t take a domestic flight. The frustration is that there’s contradictions now in the system."

Justification for the mandates has become more and more difficult for the transportation minister, Omar Alghabra, to defend the mandates.

Alghabra was asked why it was fair that unvaccinated Canadians could not see their families across the country due to his party's policies, to which he said that measures were always being "assessed and reassessed," but could not answer what the technical justification is for mandates.

Health experts have also been vocal in recent weeks over the domestic vaccine mandate, saying that it holds up to very little scrutiny.

Zain Chagla, an infectious diseases physician and an associate professor at McMaster University, wrote in The Globe and Mail three weeks ago that the logic behind vaccine mandates for travellers "no longer holds."

Chagla wrote: "We need to bring down the other limits to individual rights that don’t make medical sense. This is why we should reconsider our mandate requiring full vaccination for Canadians boarding a commercial plane or train for travel to domestic and international destinations."

Chagla argues that vaccine mandates were put in place to help prevent transmission, but as of the Omicron variant, that doesn't appear to be the case any longer.

"The efficacy of a prior infection against reinfection approaches that of two doses of vaccines; since many unvaccinated individuals have likely been infected, they may now have a similar level of immunity to their vaccinated peers. Additionally, since Canadians under the age of 12 are not currently required to be vaccinated, unvaccinated individuals have effectively been a part of travel all along – meaning that environments of exclusively vaccinated individuals do not exist."

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