Public Health Amends Proof of Vaccination Order, Not a Human Rights Matter

It’s been a couple of days since the start of Ontario’s vaccine certification program, and it seems to be going well. Still, it seems that the original version of the mandate wasn’t tight enough for our own local public health unit, and an announcement Thursday introduced some additional coverage. At the same time, the Ontario Human Rights Commission has said their mostly good with vaccine mandates, so there’s that too. 

First, the local news. On Thursday, Medical Officer of Health Dr. Nicola Mercer issued a letter of instruction for proof of vaccinations, specifically in the realm of people entering sports and recreation facilities.

The instruction will expand proof of vaccination to people 18 years and older who are accessing a sports or rec facilities to participate in an organized support, and it will apply to all people over the age of 12 that go into one of those venues for any other reason, like being a spectator.

Both these instructions go slightly further than the original proof of vaccination order announced earlier this month by the Government of Ontario. Mercer said that even though volunteers, coaches, instructors and officials were all technically exempt from the provincial mandate, the fact they spend a lot of time around young people, some of who are not yet able to get their shots, should require proof of vaccination.

If anyone is thinking about disobeying the proof of vaccination requirement though you just lost a bit of legal ground on Wednesday when the Ontario Human Rights Commission announced that people who choose not to get vaccinated are not necessarily protected under Ontario’s human rights code.

“Receiving a COVID-19 vaccine is voluntary. At the same time, the OHRC’s position is that a person who chooses not to be vaccinated based on personal preference does not have the right to accommodation under the Code,” the commission said in a statement. “The OHRC is not aware of any tribunal or court decision that found a singular belief against vaccinations or masks amounted to a creed within the meaning of the Code.”

The term “creed” is not defined by the human rights code, but courts have often cited religious beliefs and practices as an example, as well as “non-religious belief systems that, like religion, substantially influence a person’s identity, worldview and way of life.” According to the OHRC, being anti-vaccine or vaccine hesitant does not fall into the category of creed, and is more of a singular belief of an individual.

“Even if a person could show they were denied a service or employment because of a creed-based belief against vaccinations, the duty to accommodate does not necessarily require they be exempted from vaccine mandates, certification or COVID testing requirements,” the commission said. “The duty to accommodate can be limited if it would significantly compromise health and safety amounting to undue hardship – such as during a pandemic.”

The commission did note that while vaccine mandates are “generally permissible”, organizations must also put protections in place for people who are unable to be vaccinated due to “Code-related reasons”, meaning people with a medical issue or a disability that would be a barrier to them getting vaccinated. Of course, the commission also said that people with a valid medical exemption will have to show documentation according to the provincial guidelines.

The OHRC also said that any vaccine certificate program should “only be used for the shortest possible length of time” and that, “They should regularly be reviewed and updated to match the most current pandemic conditions, and to reflect up-to-date evidence and public health guidance.”

Back in Guelph on the first day of the vaccine certificate program, the Guelph Police Service reported that they only encountered one case of someone refusing to show proof of vaccination.

Police reported that they were called to a Stone Road restaurant at 11:15 am by a staff member who said that there was man there who refused to show proof of vaccination, and then wouldn’t leave the premises. When police arrived, the male had left and neither the restaurant nor the staff wanted to pursue the matter.

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