WARMINGTON: Firefighter feels ‘shunned’ as dream job becomes nightmare

The married father of four has been suspended without pay for refusing to reveal his vaccination status

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Andrew Mason is living the Canadian dream — or at least he was.

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Now, feeling “shunned,” he’s living a nightmare. He worries how he’s going to keep a roof over his wife and four young children’s heads.

“I am currently suspended with no pay,” the Toronto firefighter said Friday. “I have no idea what I am going to do.”

One thing he says he’s not going to do, under threat of being fired, is reveal his vaccination status.

“That’s between me and my doctor,” Mason, 33, said. “It says true north strong and free in the national anthem. It’s freedom of choice.”

That, however, is not what his district commander told him in a disciplinary letter: “You are insubordinate and have wilfully disobeyed an important workplace health and safety rule by refusing to comply with the direction given to you in the mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy to be fully vaccinated.”

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Unclear what “fully vaccinated” really means and on “principle,” Mason told his superiors his personal medical situation is no one’s business.

“I am not sick and have been tested and have never had COVID,” he said.

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He’s cool with regular testing, but not with putting something unknown until this year into people’s arms. He’s paying a huge price for it — not just in losing his job and income, but also in how he was treated by some peers and superiors.

“I joined the fire service because you can help people and I quickly found the brotherhood to be amazing,” Mason said.

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“There was real unity and it has been a terrific five years. But that cohesiveness is gone. There’s division now. With this line drawn in the sand, it’s no longer friendly.”

Now, feeling cast away, he fears he will never again see his pals at 315 Fire Station at College and Bathurst Sts.

“I came here as a 12-year-old from Jamaica not knowing what I would find,” Mason said.

He found a career and a beautiful wife and together they are raising a family, but now their future is up in the air.

“Since last year, when they were talking about people being separated or segregated or whatever the case may be in the Black Lives Matter thing, for me personally … this is the first time I felt shunned by society.”

He admits it hurts.

“It’s all because of medical reasons, which should be private,” Mason said. “I have never felt as shunned … this is nothing I have ever dealt with it before. I have no idea how to deal with it.”

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The irony of it is when police, fire and other first responders are accused of committing a criminal offence, they get suspended with pay until due process is administered. Here, first responders who don’t want to reveal their vaccine status face firing without severance within six weeks.

Mason is not comfortable being “forced” into something with so many outstanding questions.

In light of Premier Doug Ford saying health-care workers don’t have to be subjected to vaccine mandates, I have asked Mason’s supervisors and Mayor John Tory if an “ultimatum for him to take an inoculation” to put food on his family’s table is the only approach and if it’s “legal, ethical or moral.”

If Mason got a chance to talk to the mayor, he said, “I would just say, let me be free to decide what medical treatment I take.”

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Tory’s spokesman Don Peat said the mayor “made the decision to support this policy after hearing from city staff — including our health officials and city legal — about the need to ensure all city workplaces are safe” and while “these are incredibly difficult decisions to make,” because they could “potentially have a very serious impact on people we work with,” upon “careful discussion occupational health and safety must come first.”

Toronto spokesman Beth Waldman reminds COVID-19 “has killed more than 3,600 people in Toronto alone” and said “vaccines have been shown to be the most effective protection against the virus” while noting “over 98% of Toronto Fire employees who disclosed their status are fully vaccinated.”

While there’s lots of political signalling about the Canadian dream, the one Mason was enjoying is on hold.

jwarmington@postmedia.com

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