Manitoba's 2 largest universities, several other schools to require staff and students to be vaccinated
List of post-secondary schools mandating immunizations grows; others may not require shots by fall
Manitoba's two largest universities and several other post-secondary schools in the province will require staff and students to prove they've been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to attend campus this fall.
The University of Manitoba, the University of Winnipeg, Canadian Mennonite University and Red River College in Winnipeg and University College of the North — which has campuses in The Pas and Thompson — all sent out news releases Thursday morning about their vaccine mandates.
Assiniboine Community College in Brandon also said it will pursue a policy generally requiring all students, staff, contractors and visitors to campus to be vaccinated, but that policy will still require the approval of its board of governors.
Brandon University is strongly encouraging but not requiring vaccines before the fall term begins, though it said in a news release that it plans to work out logistical issues around a possible vaccine mandate in the coming weeks.
WATCH | Universities mandate full vaccination:
Winnipeg's Université de Saint-Boniface also said while it encourages immunizations against COVID-19, it's still considering whether to implement a vaccine mandate. University president Sophie Bouffard said in an emailed statement the school first needs to consider accommodations and exemptions for those who aren't vaccinated.
Providence University College and Theological Seminary in Otterburne said in a Sunday post on its website that it "highly encourages all students and employees to receive full vaccination before beginning their time as a member of the Providence community" but stopped short of mandating immunizations.
The update marks a shift from the beginning of the summer, when most of those schools said they would not make vaccines compulsory when the fall term starts.
Most of the schools that made announcements about vaccine mandates on Thursday also provided deadlines for when those who haven't yet been vaccinated need to get their shots in order to attend campus.
The University of Manitoba said students, staff, faculty and campus visitors 12 and older will need to get a first dose by Sept. 22 and a second by the end of October.
Canadian Mennonite University will require students, staff and faculty to get a first dose by Aug. 31 and a second by Sept. 30, while Red River College will require first doses by Sept. 10 and second shots by Oct. 17.
At University College of the North, students, faculty, staff and visitors will need to be fully vaccinated by Nov. 1.
The University of Winnipeg said it will remain closed to the public for the fall term, with authorized students, faculty and staff allowed to enter through controlled access points after they've shown one-time proof of vaccination.
Those who aren't vaccinated or still only have one dose will have to sign a form declaring they'll get fully vaccinated and show proof within a specified timeframe to get into the U of W, though that timeframe was not announced Thursday. If they don't, their access to campus — which will be marked by a sticker placed on their identification card — will be revoked.
The University of Winnipeg's mandate won't apply to high school students at the University of Winnipeg Collegiate or fitness centre members and external organizations that use the Axworthy Health and RecPlex, the school said.
Some of the schools that announced vaccine mandates also included reasons why people may be exempt from the new rules.
At the University of Winnipeg, those unable to get vaccinated who "provide satisfactory medical verification" will still be allowed to access campus.
Those who refuse to get vaccinated will have to learn remotely, work remotely (if possible) or show proof of a negative COVID-19 test.
The University of Manitoba said it will also accommodate people who can't be vaccinated for medical reasons "and will work with individuals who request accommodation on other grounds."
Red River College said it respects medical and religious- or creed-based exemptions for vaccinations "upon presentation of appropriate documentation." A process for those types of exemptions is still being worked out.
Faculty, student associations on board
Representatives from some faculty and student associations welcomed the news, though some say more details are still needed.
Gautam Srivastava, president of the 250-member Brandon University Faculty Association, called the school's announcement of its plans to look into a vaccine mandate "a step in the right direction."
He said he's glad the school is still going to require masks and generally limit in-person classes to 25 students — "another level of protection" in the absence of requiring immunizations.
At the University of Winnipeg, student association president Kirt Hayer said he was glad to see a comprehensive plan involving access points and stickers for the school's roughly 10,000 students.
"We want a safe return to campus for everybody and for students to be able to have the in-campus experience that they really want."
Michael Shaw, spokesperson for the 1,200-member University of Manitoba Faculty Association, said he hopes to see a similar level of detail from his school. In Thursday's announcement, the University of Manitoba said more details about vaccine protocols are coming.
"While we are hopeful that those details will include a robust protocol to ensure that people are telling the truth and whatnot, we don't yet have those details from the University of Manitoba," Shaw said.
Michael Benarroch, president and vice-chancellor of the U of M, said those details will outline how the mandate will be enforced for the school's roughly 32,000 students, which includes about 6,000 from outside Canada.
The full plan will also explain how the university will accommodate those who aren't vaccinated, which Benarroch said will likely include regular COVID-19 testing before coming to campus.
Reasonable accommodations needed
Brandon Trask, an assistant professor at the University of Manitoba's Robson Hall faculty of law, said vaccine mandates are still "very tricky business."
Trask, who is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, said there's still a lot of grey area that could lead these types of requirements to be sorted out through the courts, though that process would take years to be settled.
From a legal perspective, legislation like Manitoba's Human Rights Code — which bars discrimination based on things like disability or religious beliefs — could come into play if those are reasons people aren't getting vaccinated, Trask said.
Even if that type of discrimination is allowed on the grounds that vaccines are vital to minimize the spread of a virus in a global pandemic, he said there still needs to be an offer of reasonable accommodation for those who can't be immunized for protected ground reasons.
"A vaccine mandate [by] law likely can't be just a flat-out, 'You're either vaccinated or you're not.' There have to be exemptions," Trask said.
Benarroch said while the university's mandate is still "a work in progress," legal advice has been involved in developing it along the way.
"We do believe we're on strong footing here."
- An earlier version of this story said Red River College will require first doses by Sept. 19. In fact, first doses will be required at RRC by Sept. 10.Aug 19, 2021 1:55 PM CT
With files from Susan Magas and Sean Kavanagh