Hundreds of students marched across the campus of Western University on Aug. 27 in protest against its COVID-19 vaccine policy that makes it the only university in Canada to mandate three shots for all staff and students.
All individuals on campus—including students, employees, and visitors—must provide proof of vaccination or have an exemption granted by the university. They must also comply with "any testing program and other requirements established by the university from time to time."
The London, Ontario, university added that, "as public health advice continues to evolve," it "may require individuals attending on campus to provide proof that they have received one or more additional boosters."
The policy is set to remain in place until Aug. 22, 2023.
‘People Want Choice Back’Protest organizer Kendra Hancock said she hoped the demonstration would lead to public negotiations and further student consultation over the university's rules, which also include mandatory masking in classrooms.
"I think when they consult students they'll find people want choice back and people want to remove all the mandates," Hancock said.
Ponesse said "the truth is coming out," pointing to Western's motto, "Veritas et Utilitas," which means "truth and usefulness."
Corrina Courtney, a fifth-year undergraduate business student at Western, said she opposed the university's mandate despite having had a booster shot herself. The decision to get vaccinated "should just be a choice,"she said.
"I think that should be something that's universal and not under anybody's judgment. Western shouldn't have the authority to make that decision for people," she said.
James Donalds told reporters that he was ready to join his fellow first-year nursing students on campus next month but that he would sit out this academic year if the vaccine policy stands.
He said he felt "coerced" to get two doses earlier in the pandemic when proof of vaccination rules were in place. Now, he said, after "waking up to the situation," he does not want a third shot.
University’s ResponseMost Ontario universities have not imposed either vaccine or mask mandates for the fall semester, and the province has lifted proof of vaccination requirements in public spaces.
Western is the only university in Canada to mandate booster shots for all staff and students on campus, though some other institutions, including the University of Toronto and Trent University, have required those living in residence to have three and two doses, respectively.
The university also noted that it is aware of the involvement of "groups not associated with our campus community," which it said "are looking to use this peaceful protest as a platform to express their own grievances," though it didn't provide any further information on those groups.
"We are concerned that this event will be used for reasons other than what our students have planned, creating a risk of it becoming disruptive and potentially dangerous," the statement reads.
"We are not, however, in favour of actions that risk the safety of peaceful protestors or others who happen to be on campus or in our neighbouring communities," it added.