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Mandatory vaccination policies for post-secondary institutions implemented across Ontario

Wednesday, August 25, 2021 @ 3:22 PM | By Amanda Jerome

Last Updated: Thursday, August 26, 2021 @ 10:48 AM


Mandatory COVID-19 vaccination has been the rallying cry for schools across Ontario, with the president and CEOs of Colleges Ontario and the Council of Ontario Universities, calling on the provincial government to “provide a province-wide policy that would require the vaccination of postsecondary students, staff and faculty, to help ensure optimal public health protection for all.”

The request to government, issued on Aug. 6, stressed that a “co-ordinated and consistent approach by the provincial government is the optimal solution.”

“Provincial public health guidelines have assisted the public in understanding restrictions throughout the pandemic, and, similarly, a consistent province-wide approach to vaccine policy will enhance public understanding and further protect the health and safety of all Ontarians,” the request stated.

The post-secondary institutions with law schools that have issued mandatory vaccine policies include: the University of Ottawa, University of Toronto, University of Windsor, Queen’s University, Western University, York University, Carleton University, Lakehead University and Ryerson University.

Although the schools’ announcements laud the effectiveness of vaccines in keeping community members safe, they all stress that accommodations will be made for those who can’t be vaccinated on grounds recognized by the Ontario Human Rights Code, effectively creating a loophole for those who wish to avoid vaccination.

UofT Faculty Association President Terezia Zorić

UofT Faculty Association President Terezia Zorić

This issue was highlighted by Terezia Zorić, president of the University of Toronto Faculty Association, in an open letter on Twitter calling U of T’s vaccine mandate announcement “misleading and inadequate and does little to ensure a safe return to the University.”

The letter, addressed to school president Meric Gertler, noted that the administration’s “assertion that everyone on campus will be required to be vaccinated or tested does not bear scrutiny.”

“With very few exceptions, the overwhelming majority of those on campus are still only required to self-declare their vaccination status without any obligation to show proof,” the letter, posted on Aug. 12, added.

Zorić stressed that, to date, “minimum standards for a safe return to the University of Toronto campus have not been met” and faculty and librarians are “deeply concerned about being pressured to teach in classrooms at full capacity, including classes of several hundred students, without any physical distancing or verified ventilation …”

Zorić called on the university to “implement specific, measurable, and accountable actions in a clear and unambiguous way.”

On Aug. 17, the provincial government implemented vaccination policies for post-secondary institutions.

Before this move by the government of Ontario, the University of Ottawa was the first school in the province to release a vaccine mandate, noting that “[F]rom the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the University’s priority has been to safeguard the health of its community.”

UofO President and Vice Chancellor Jacques Frémont

UofO President and Vice Chancellor Jacques Frémont

“The risks posed by the pandemic are clear, and the path to staying safe, ever clearer,” said Jacques Frémont, president and vice-chancellor at the University of Ottawa, in a statement issued Aug. 10.

“This decision is based on both common sense and good science, and on the advice of public health authorities. We have full confidence that people in our university community will respect this decision as we work together to protect the health and safety of our community,” he added.

The University of Ottawa stressed, however, that accommodations will be made to “individuals who cannot be vaccinated on medical grounds or other grounds recognized by the Ontario Human Rights Code.”

The University of Ottawa has also released a 44-page “reintegration planning guidance for faculties and services” document that outlines its framework to reopen as well as goals and objectives.

The framework notes that the “desired outcome of the next iteration of campus reintegration is for uOttawa to continue to successfully and fully meet its academic and research mission for the 2021‐2022 academic year while all COVID‐19 related necessary restrictions and precautions remain in place.”

“The University’s plan is to provide a full, enriching on‐campus experience at uOttawa for Fall 2021, with 30 to 50% courses to be delivered in person or using hybrid/bimodal formats, and the remainder to be offered online,” the framework added.

University of Windsor Law Dean Reem Bahdi

University of Windsor Law Dean Reem Bahdi

Reem Bahdi, dean of law at University of Windsor, announced on Aug. 9 that course delivery for the fall will be “conducted primarily online.” However, the school has offered some classes for in-person study as a way to ease back in for the winter term.

Courses available for in-person study include, Indigenous Legal Orders (1L), Torts (2L), Legal Profession (3L), Sports Law (2L and 3L), and Research Methods (LLM program).

Windsor’s Faculty of Law plans to return to in-person instruction completely for the winter term, but Bahdi stressed that accommodations will be made for those that require it.

In an announcement on Aug. 13, the University of Windsor mandated vaccinations for everyone returning to campus, stressing that “regular testing protocols will be established for those who are not vaccinated and/or have received accommodations.”

Queen’s University announced that vaccinations would be required in a release issued Aug. 12. The announcement noted that the requirement “will also apply to all visitors to the Queen's campus.”

Queen’s has also released a Campus Re-opening Framework, which notes that the school will return to “near full in-person, on-campus instruction in Fall 2021.”

According to the framework, “[P]hysical distancing will not be required by September 2021. Class sizes will not be limited, although capacity restrictions may remain in place in some settings” and “[P]lexi-glass barriers will not be required in classrooms, work, or service areas.”

“Non-medical masks will be required in indoor common areas and classrooms,” the framework also explained.

Queen’s Faculty of Law is following the school’s lead in this area and will have in-person learning as the primary mode of course delivery.

Western is also preparing for a full return to in-person classes this fall and has issued a vaccination policy for all staff, faculty and students.

According to Western’s vaccine mandate announcement, issued Aug. 11, “[T]hose without proof of vaccination must be tested twice a week in order to be on campus.” However, on Aug. 25, Western updated its vaccination policy by “eliminating the option for regular testing except under rare exemptions.”

This adjustment to the policy was made after the Council of Ontario Medical Officers of Health (COMOH) “strongly recommending mandatory vaccinations in all postsecondary institutions in the province.”

The school stressed that “[U]nvaccinated students, faculty and staff at Western will no longer have the option to undergo twice-a-week testing in lieu of vaccination. Only those with a medical or Ontario Human Rights Code exemption will be eligible for the regular, twice-a-week testing in order to be physically on campus this fall.”

“The university conducted a survey of all students, faculty and staff in early August to gauge vaccination rates in the community. The survey found nearly 90 per cent of respondents are fully vaccinated, and more than half of those remaining plan to get their COVID-19 vaccines by September. This rate of vaccination is consistent among undergraduate student respondents. The survey was sent to over 62,000 members of Western’s community with a response rate of nearly 50 per cent,” the announcement explained.

Carleton University announced mandatory vaccination on Aug. 12, highlighting the “rising Delta variant and evolving public health advice” as its reason for “implementing vaccination requirements for campus access for fall 2021.”

Carleton’s Department of Law and Legal Studies’ website noted that there will be “a mix of in-person and online courses in Fall 2021, subject to Public Health Guidelines” and that the department “anticipates returning to mostly in-person course delivery by Winter 2022 (with online versions of some courses still available).”

York University has also implemented a mandatory vaccine policy for all community members and visitors to campus.

Yanni Dagonas, York’s deputy spokesperson, told The Lawyer’s Daily the school is “planning for a safe return to our campuses this fall by creating the conditions that will allow community members to resume in-person activities with confidence.”

“The University will continue to prepare for a blend of in-person and remote learning options for the fall term. As students register, each course identifies whether the class will be held in-person or taught remotely. All faculties, including Osgoode Hall Law School, will offer a mix of in-person and virtual learning in order to provide choices to students with different needs. Our goal is to ensure that all students have some access to in-person courses especially in years one and two should they want,” he explained.

According to a Lakehead University spokesperson, the Bora Laskin Faculty of Law will resume in-person classes for the fall 2021 semester.

Lakehead is the most recent school to implement a mandatory vaccination policy, issuing a statement on Aug. 16.

“The policy, which is currently being developed and will be shared with our University community upon completion, will address details of its implementation, including guidelines that will apply to any visitors to our campuses and properties. This policy will enhance existing measures we have taken in recent weeks as we prepare to return to our campuses,” said Dr. Moira McPherson, Lakehead’s president and vice-chancellor.

The University of Toronto released a 12-step plan for a “safe return to in-person instruction” as well as a vaccination requirement for students, staff, faculty and librarians on Aug. 11.

Professor Salvatore Spadafora, special adviser to U of T’s president on COVID-19 and senior adviser to the dean of the Temerty Faculty of Medicine, said “[T]he public health evidence is clear: Vaccination provides the best protection from COVID-19.”

Nina Haikara, spokesperson for U of T’s Faculty of Law, told The Lawyer’s Daily that “classes at U of T Law will be held in-person” and there will be “no impact on tuition.”

“Students who are unable to attend in person for medical reasons or are delayed because of visa issues or having to quarantine, may apply for an accommodation to attend remotely,” she added.

Haikara also noted that the Faculty of Law will be following the university’s lead on vaccines, which has been “informed by the latest public health guidance.”

Lincoln Alexander Law School Dean Donna Young

Lincoln Alexander Law School Dean Donna Young

Donna Young, dean of the Lincoln Alexander School of Law at Ryerson University, said “with vaccination rates continuing to rise in Ontario, the Lincoln Alexander School of Law remains cautiously optimistic for a safe and successful partial return to campus this fall.”

“This optimism, paired with the prioritization of the safety and well-being of our community, is driving the law school’s plans for the upcoming fall semester,” she added, noting the school has “developed protocols for safe and academically sound curriculum delivery and student programming.”

Young explained that this fall, a “majority of our classes will be offered fully remotely but we are planning to offer some in-person/hybrid instruction to our first and second year students.”

“These courses will be taught in a variety of ways including a) Hyflex- synchronous with some students in-person and some students connecting remotely via Zoom; b) in-person classes with recorded lectures available to students taking the class remotely; and c) a combination of synchronous and asynchronous classes. Specific information about remote and on-campus opportunities will be communicated to students before classes start. We are continuing to monitor the situation closely and will adapt accordingly if needed,” she added.

Young also noted that Ryerson University will “require all students, faculty, staff, contractors and visitors coming to campus to attest to their COVID-19 vaccination status.”

“Those who have not been fully vaccinated or do not want to disclose their vaccination status will be required to be tested in order to come to campus. Additional safety protocols are in place, including use of masks, health screening and ventilation to protect those working and learning on campus,” she added.

Young’s hope is that “this fall will be a period of transition as we prepare for a full return to all activities on campus in January 2022.”

“We understand that our students require flexible options to safely study on campus; we will aim to support students’ learning activities both in and out of the classroom,” she explained, noting that the school remains “committed to supporting our students to overcome financial barriers associated with pursuing a legal education.”

“We are continuing to create and support awards and scholarships for our students,” she added.

“Despite the challenges caused by the pandemic, the Lincoln Alexander School of Law will continue to offer a rigorous curriculum coupled with dynamic experiential opportunities including student participation in clinics, externships, moot court competitions, and student-led research projects. While we’ve had to adapt our teaching approach, the value of the Lincoln Alexander Law’s unique Integrated Practice Curriculum remains strong for our students,” Young stressed.

Photo credit: Photo of Donna Young by Mitch Wojnarowicz; Illustration by Chris Yates/Law360.

If you have any information, story ideas or news tips for The Lawyer’s Daily please contact Amanda Jerome at Amanda.Jerome@lexisnexis.ca or call 416-524-2152.