Two Toronto college students are threatening to sue their school because they do not want to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
In a statement issued Tuesday, the Calgary-based Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms—a group that has raised a number of legal challenges against COVID-19 restrictions—said it’s representing two Seneca College students who are barred from being on campus unless they get vaccinated.
The statement said the Justice Centre sent Seneca College a letter in July, stating “if it did not lift the vaccine requirement for the two students, legal action would commence. Those letters never received a response.”
“The Justice Centre is preparing a lawsuit against Seneca College on behalf of these students, and intends to aggressively defend their Charter rights,” said Justice Centre staff lawyer Allison Pejovic in the statement. The Canadian Charter of Rights in Freedoms includes freedom of expression, freedom from discrimination, and the right to life, liberty, and security of the person.
“We will fiercely defend these women and their right to bodily integrity and the freedom to choose what medical treatment they undertake, without the fear of being denied their education,” Pejovic said.
VICE World News has reached out to both the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms and Seneca College for comment but has not yet heard back.
Seneca’s policy says students and employees at the school must be vaccinated if they are participating in on campus activities, but medical exemptions will be respected; the policy doesn’t apply to those learning remotely.
The school is not allowing COVID-19 testing as an alternative to being vaccinated.
The two students, Mariana Costa and Crystal Love, are enrolled in fashion arts and veterinary technician programs, respectively.
According to the Justice Centre, neither student can complete her program 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.”
Lorian Hardcastle, an associate professor of health, law and policy at the University of Calgary, said she’s “pessimistic about the (lawsuit’s) chances for success.”
Hardcastle said the first hurdle is figuring out if the Charter actually applies to universities, which are public but not government bodies. It wouldn’t apply to restaurants or sports teams requiring vaccines, she said.
The second issue will be determining which Charter right the mandate is infringing upon, she said. Seneca has already said it will make exemptions for health reasons.
“Just because something has a negative effect on your life doesn't mean that that indeed is a protected Charter right.”
Hardcastle said there are limits on Charter rights if there is a pressing reason and the response is proportional.
The Justice Centre statement also made a number of misleading claims, including that “there is scientific evidence that these vaccines do not stop transmission,” and that Seneca’s vaccine policy is “not science or evidence-based” because “fully vaccinated people with breakthrough infections carry high viral loads and can spread the disease to others.”
According to the Ontario government, all COVID-19 vaccines approved in Canada have worked “very well to prevent people from becoming sick with symptomatic, lab-confirmed COVID-19” and are “highly effective at preventing severe outcomes including hospitalizations, ICU admission, severe disease, and death.”
A new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that unvaccinated people are about 29 times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID and five times more likely to be infected with COVID than vaccinated people.
Hardcastle said the benefits of being vaccinated far outweigh any limits on efficacy, particularly in a university environment where you have “potentially hundreds of people in a room all breathing the same air.”
She said the Justice Centre, which cited extremely rare potential side effects of various COVID-19 vaccines, is “overstating the risks of these vaccines.”
She noted that Ontario schools have long had vaccine requirements in place, and they have not been subjected to successful Charter challenges.
The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms has also rallied against lockdown measures. Its founder, Alberta lawyer John Carpay, stepped down in July after hiring a private investigator to surveil a Manitoba judge overseeing lockdown challenges brought forth by churches and the Justice Centre. The investigator was hired to catch the judge breaking COVID-19 restrictions.
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