Nfld. & Labrador

MUN sets vaccination deadlines as union explores possibility of human rights challenge

Memorial University has spelled out more details on a controversial COVID-19 vaccine mandate for students, faculty and staff, while a union is expressing concerns about a mandatory order that it says could harm some members' rights. 

Keeping discussion around vaccine exemptions respectful is critical, says CUPE president

Memorial University said Monday night its vaccine requirement is in effect now. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

Memorial University has spelled out more details on a controversial COVID-19 vaccine mandate for students, faculty and staff, while a union is expressing concerns about a mandatory order that it says could harm some members' rights. 

Memorial says people in the university community will need to have their first shot of an approved vaccine by Sept. 7, and a second dose by Oct. 15. Accommodations will be granted for some exemptions, the university says. 

"We feel that this is the only way to get back to some level of normalcy and safety," Greg McDougall, Memorial's chief risk officer, Tuesday in an interview with The St. John's Morning Show.

Memorial announced Friday it would introduce a mandatory vaccination and masking mandate, while also requiring masks in all indoor public spaces, including classrooms and washrooms, and in common areas where two metres of physical distancing cannot be maintained.

McDougall said university leadership consulted with staff, faculty and students, and determined the community "overwhelmingly" supported the mandate.

Although the university won't begin enforcing the policy until Sept. 7, McDougall said the rule is in effect now.

"Don't come to campus unless you're vaccinated," he said.

McDougall acknowledged some international students will have received vaccines that are not approved by Health Canada, and said Memorial will accept any vaccines recognized by the World Health Organization.

In a statement Monday evening, the university said the accommodation process is still being finalized. According to the university, exemptions may be given based on medical needs or human rights, for example.

McDougall said accommodations will be offered for a range of circumstances, including religious reasons, alternative learning and testing.

"Accommodations are not just black or white," he said. "We really will work with the community around those who cannot get a vaccine for medical reasons or those who are vaccine hesitant in terms of providing options or support for them."

McDougall said the university is still determining what those accommodations will look like. "Ultimately, our goal is ensuring campus safety," he said.

Union concerned about rights

Theresa Antle, president of Canadian Union of Publice Employees Local 1615, which represents about 800 on-campus administrative, technical and instructional support staff, sent a letter to members saying she hopes those who choose not to be vaccinated against the virus can "have their rights upheld."

But in an interview with CBC News, Antle said the union supports vaccination programs. 

"From the reaction that I got, I would say it's probably 95 per cent plus of our members … are supporting the vaccine," Antle told CBC News on Monday. 

"So I want to make sure that all members feel that their rights and being protected, and we do have to defend everybody in regards to their choices that they make."

Antle said the local is working with national representatives to see how far they would be able to take a challenge relating to human or charter rights if one presented itself.

Theresa Antle, president of Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 1615, says the union is considering how far they would be able to take a challenge to MUN's mandatory vaccination mandate. (CBC)

"Anyone who feels that they're being forced to do something they are not willing to or want to do, that will have to be a separate conversation," she said. "Some members involve the union, some will go speak on their own behalf. But it will be conversations that will have to happen with human resources and the health and safety team.

In a second letter with a slightly different tone, Antle said the health and safety of its members is critical, and that it's important to keep discussions on vaccines respectful.

"The health and safety of all of our members is key here," she said. "Respect, not stigmatizing people for their beliefs or what they choose or choose not to do. The safety of all our members is critical here on campus, and I just want to help all our members as much as I can."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Meg Roberts and The St. John's Morning Show

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