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Foothills Reeve apologizes for vaccine comments called BS by Nenshi

“My intention for that conversation was to just state how important it would be and is there a way forward for us to consider all views." Foothills County Reeve Suzanne Oel
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Foothills County Reeve, Suzanne Oel, is apologizing for comments she made about COVID vaccines that she said represented the diverse viewpoints she has heard on the topic.

Foothills County Reeve Suzanne Oel is apologizing for comments she made about the COVID vaccine Sept. 17 at a Calgary Metropolitan Regional Board meeting that drew anger from Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi.

During the meeting Oel called the COVID vaccine “experimental” and said the vaccine was only tested on animals prior to being given to humans. The comments occurred while elected officials from the Calgary area were discussing the latest Provincial COVID restrictions.

“While some citizens believe the vaccine will protect them, others disagree and of note is the experimental vaccines does not prevent infection or transmission,” Oel said during the virtual Calgary Municipal Regional Board (CMRB) meeting. “Safety trials have not been completed. Many instances of adverse effects are showing up. The bottom line is people should have a choice to make an informed decision on either side of this without being censored, belittled coerced or punished. There has to be a way to get through this without violating people.”

Oel was acclaimed as the Division 4 councillor on nomination day Sept. 20.

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi cut in, calling Oel’s comments "BS" and said she should “read the science” and “stop educating yourself from YouTube.”

“What she said is one thousand per cent false and this is not a place for us to abide those extremist views,” Nenshi said. “I was with an ICU nurse yesterday, people are dying every day. Yes, we have to have a diversity of views, but we don’t have to have a diversity for complete BS like that. That is completely untrue and saying things like that puts people at risk and you should be ashamed of yourself Reeve Oel.”

Nenshi corrected Oel calling the vaccine experimental, noting that Health Canada had given its full approval to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines a day earlier and that they had undergone rigorous human testing.

CMRB chair Greg Clark also cautioned Oel to “stick to the facts."

“Terms like the experimental vaccine and there are some things you said in there, Reeve Oel, that there are things you said that to the best of my knowledge are not true,” Clark said. “We are not here to necessarily debate the merits of medical science but to try to stick to areas that we as leaders and you as leaders in your community can affect the health and wellbeing to your residents and provide feedback to the province as well.”

Oel said in an interview with the Western Wheel on Sept. 24,  she regrets the statements and is apologetic for what she said.

“I meant no disrespect to residents or the importance of all aspects of the health situation we are living through,” she said. “I respect all of the views of all of our residents. I acknowledge and apologize for the words I stated that caused concern.”

The comments were not meant to be representative of her as the Foothills County Reeve or council, Oel said, but simply comments made during a discussion about the new Provincial restrictions on COVID.

“I realize this was not the best avenue for this discussion, or interpretation,” she said. "I also note that this also wasn’t the position of Foothills County but an expression of concern about the many diverse opinions coming my way, which I could have filtered or not expressed in this forum.”

Oel said the new COVID restrictions announced by the Province on Sept. 15 had left her sleepless and that hearing from others about how stressed they are about the pandemic restrictions has left her wondering how to get through the pandemic while respecting the diversity of opinions. Her comments did not come across the way she intended them, she said.

“My intention for that conversation was to just state how important it would be and is there a way forward for us to consider all views,” she said. "And we are a pretty creative and talented population, so maybe there is, but maybe there isn’t. Maybe the only way is the one way. So, people do want to have a conversation. So, if I erred on that, it was that it did not come across clearly enough that I was trying to be respectful of all, including the ones who are very happy with the measures underway.”

Oel said she will be giving an apology at the upcoming Foothills County council meeting and has forwarded an apology to the CMRB.  

“I will work with our council to make sense of this and find a way forward together,” she said.

To hear the Oel's comments from the CMRB meeting click here