Montreal

As Ontario universities press ahead, no plans for Quebec universities to make vaccines mandatory

McGill University's administration has maintained being fully vaccinated won't be required, even as the institution faces growing pressure from students and staff to do so.

McGill faces pushback from faculty as it prepares for fall semester

McGill University and other universities across Quebec have not made vaccination against COVID-19 a requirement to return to class. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Earlier this week, the University of Ottawa announced it would make COVID-19 vaccinations compulsory for on-campus activities, and several other universities across Ontario followed suit.

In Quebec, however, universities have maintained that they will not require people to be fully vaccinated, even as they face growing pressure from students and staff to do so.

A petition launched at McGill University calls for the institution to make being vaccinated a requirement for all students, faculty, staff and visitors to campus.

In a letter to the university community obtained by CBC News, McGill said Thursday that because Quebec considers higher education an essential service, the "vaccine passport will not impact your ability to engage in teaching and research activities at McGill."

That claim has been met with pushback from students and staff, who argue McGill should make vaccination mandatory, and doesn't require the provincial government's approval to do so.

"We know of no law that prevents it," Richard Gold, a professor in the faculty of law and medicine at McGill, said Friday. He pointed out that Ontario schools have chosen to go ahead after considering the same legal questions.

In the United States, more than 400 universities have adopted the same policy and many are also requiring twice-weekly testing.

"As Canadian universities are also adopting this, it becomes very hard to say that that is not the standard," Gold said, arguing that the school could in fact be held liable for failing to protect the community.

CBC and Radio-Canada contacted several universities across Quebec this week, including McGill and Concordia University, and none said they were planning a change in policy.

In an email to CBC News on Friday, Shirley Cardenas, a spokesperson for McGill, said the university was "still in discussion with the various government authorities to adapt our plans and put in place the necessary measures that will ensure the successful return of students and employees to our campuses in September."

"At this time, we do not require mandatory vaccination," she said.

Ananya Tina Banerjee, a professor in the department of epidemiology, biostatistics and occupational health at McGill University, said she is looking forward to returning to the physical classroom. But she worries about being in an environment where not everyone has been vaccinated.

Banerjee also says the university's policy — which doesn't include distancing or testing, but does include mandatory masking — falls short.

"The reality is the university is a place where the delta variant can spread quite quickly," she said. "Mandating vaccines would really protect everybody."

Quebec has seen an uptick in cases in recent days, driven by the increased presence of the delta variant.

On Thursday, officials with Laval and Montreal public expressed concern about the rising numbers with schools set to reopen in a matter of weeks.

At a news conference Friday, Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé said the province's public health officials were watching the situation closely.

He referred questions about universities to Danielle McCann, the minister of higher education. In an email, a spokesperson said for McCann said it "is not our intention to impose compulsory vaccination on institutions in Quebec. Access to courses is an essential service and education is a priority for us."

With files from Sarah Leavitt

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