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Allison Pejovic, Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms staff lawyer

Students launching claim against Seneca College over COVID-19 vaccine mandate

Thursday, September 02, 2021 @ 9:35 AM | By Amanda Jerome


Two students enrolled at Seneca College plan to sue the school over its COVID-19 vaccine mandate. The students were notified via e-mail that they would not be permitted to participate in on-campus activities if they were not vaccinated.

The students, Mariana Costa and Crystal Love, are being represented by the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF). According to a JCCF release, Costa is “enrolled in a three-year fashion arts program” and Love is “enrolled in a two-year veterinary technician program.”

“Neither Ms. Costa nor Ms. Love can fully complete their programs online, which will leave them struggling to deal with student loan payments in the long-term as it will take them longer to earn income to begin to pay them back. Ms. Love is a single mother who has been working hard to be able to better provide for her children, and both women are anxious to finish their programs to be able to begin new careers,” the JCCF’s release explained.

The JCCF’s release also noted that the “Supreme Court of Canada has held that the Charter applies to the actions of colleges in Canada, and the Charter protects these students’ rights of conscience, privacy, and to life, liberty and security of the person. A court may also find that vaccine mandates discriminate against the unvaccinated and are a violation of their equality rights.”

 JCCF staff lawyer, Allison Pejovic

Allison Pejovic, JCCF staff lawyer

JCCF staff lawyer, Allison Pejovic, told The Lawyer’s Daily that the students are concerned that the COVID-19 vaccines “are still in clinical trials and they will be in clinical trials until 2023.”

“Therefore,” Pejovic added, “there is no long-term safety data.”

She noted that the students are “concerned about not having that long-term safety data and they’re going to put what is essentially an experimental injection into their bodies where, they also know that because of the age group that they fall into and they don’t have any other conditions that would put them at a higher risk of death if they got COVID-19, they fall into a category of somebody who would have a 99.997 per cent chance of recovering from the disease if they were to catch it.”

“So, in their mind, they know that statistic is quite high, that they will recover from COVID-19 versus an unknown, long-term safety profile for the COVID-19 vaccine. And that is their choice and it’s a risk that they’re willing to take,” Pejovic explained.

In the JCCF’s release, Pejovic stated that “Seneca’s policy is not only unconstitutional, but also not science or evidence-based, as the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] has admitted that fully vaccinated people with breakthrough infections carry high viral loads and can spread the disease to others.”

“The use of coercive and intimidating tactics in threatening to destroy students’ education and career prospects if they do not submit and receive the new COVID-19 vaccine is unethical and unlawful,” she added.

According to Seneca’s president, David Agnew, the school “has made the health and safety of our community our first priority” since the start of the pandemic. 

In his announcement on the school's vaccine policy, Agnew noted that “COVID-19 is a deadly and persistent virus.”

“Its variants continue to wreak havoc. Thousands of people in Canada, and millions around the world, have died after being infected. With varying degrees of success, the world is racing to bring the virus under control through vaccinations,” he added. 

Even though Seneca’s vaccine policy mandates COVID-19 immunization for “students and employees to come on campus for the fall term, starting Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2021,” Agnew stressed that the school will respect medical exemption. 

“Let me be clear: we are not requiring anyone to get a vaccine. We will respect medical exemptions upon presentation of appropriate documentation. Fully online and remote learning, teaching and working are not affected by this policy,” he explained. 

“However, to continue to protect the health of our community and stop the spread of infections, vaccinations will be a condition of participating in on-campus activities. And these activities will continue to be subject to public health guidelines and rules,” Agnew added. 

Agnew's announcement noted that while vaccinations protect individuals, “getting vaccinated is also a sign of your commitment to the community — your family, friends, neighbours and even strangers — by helping protect others and save lives.”

“In recent history, we tamed killer diseases and viruses together through mass vaccination campaigns. For most of us, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria and more are diseases of the past, thanks to vaccines,” he explained, adding that today, “our challenge is COVID-19. It too will be beaten by vaccines.”

Pejovic told The Lawyer’s Daily that the students’ claim has not been filed yet, but she thinks the case will inspire other students to sue schools over vaccine mandates.

“We are going to fiercely defend our clients’ right to have freedom of choice and the freedom to decide what they put into their own body and that we feel that it is unlawful and unethical for post-secondary education institutions to impose a mandate, which would effectively bar one class of students from receiving their education over an experimental vaccine,” she said.

When asked whether the JCCF would sue the Ontario government for implementing mandatory COVID-19 vaccine policies at post-secondary institutions, Pejovic said the JCCF are “going to be looking at that from a legal standpoint, but we haven’t made any final decisions on that yet.”

Pejovic said the JCCF has not received a response from Seneca College. According to the release, the JCCF sent letters on behalf of Love and Costa “advising the college that if it did not lift the vaccine requirement for the two students, legal action would commence.”

Seneca did not respond to The Lawyers Daily's request for comment on the potential lawsuit by press time. 

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.