Organization Offers Students Legal Support After Western University Denies Religious Vaccine Exemption Letters

Organization Offers Students Legal Support After Western University Denies Religious Vaccine Exemption Letters
A student walks toward the Western University campus in London, Ont., on Sept. 15, 2021. (Nicole Osborne/The Canadian Press)
David Wagner

Liberty Coalition Canada (LCC) is helping students request religious exemptions from vaccination after Western University announced that a third COVID-19 booster dose is needed to be considered vaccinated.

As of Sept. 28, Western was the only university in Canada to require all its students, faculty, and staff to have a third dose of the vaccine. The University of Toronto had a three-dose vaccine requirement, but only for those living on campus, and out of 8,400 students, 1 percent requested an exemption.

“While we can’t predict when the next wave of COVID-19 might come, we believe these measures will help us protect the in-person experience that Western is known for,” Florentine Strzelczyk, provost and vice president at Western, said in an August press release, where the university touts its past mandate and how it led to a 99 percent vaccination rate.
But many staff and students objected to the third dose requirement. The University of Western Ontario Staff Association opposed, saying it violated their collective agreement and the province's human rights laws. Further, hundreds of students marched around campus protesting the mandate on Aug. 27.
On Sept. 6, Western pushed back its deadline for having a third dose from October 2022 to January 2023.

Legal Challenge

LCC is a Christian-affiliated organization that advocates “for human rights and constitutional freedoms with legal backing.” The organization says part of its mission is to offer legal support to Canadians who are having their "lawful freedoms" challenged.
In a Facebook post on Oct. 6, LCC said Western had denied many requests from Christian students who wanted a religious exemption. Some of the students who requested had their first two doses, while others did not have any doses.

It said one student was granted permission to be exempt from the vaccination through the efforts of its chief litigator, James Kitchen, but others were not.

“Through its lawyers, Western has refused to reverse these denials. The reason? According to Western’s lawyers, these students’ Christian beliefs must not be uniquely personal to them because they are shared by other students. Apparently, according to Western, when Christian students share similar Christian beliefs, those beliefs are no longer protected by the law,” LCC said.

"Liberty Coalition Canada is stepping up to help these students by providing free legal representation through James Kitchen."

The Epoch Times reached out to Western University for a comment but did not immediately hear back by publication time.

LCC posted its correspondence (pdf) with Western on its website. In Western’s letter denying one student's request, the school cited Syndicat Northcrest v. Amselem.

“Here, the Court held that one ‘must examine whether an individual’s belief has a ‘nexus with religion,’ in which an individual demonstrates he or she sincerely believes or is sincerely undertaking in order to connect with the divine or as a function of his or her spiritual faith.’ This requires the individual to demonstrate their sincere personal belief and that their belief, and any required act or omission, has a nexus with religion.”

It said that the appeal did not “speak” to the student’s “personal, sincerely held beliefs” and said that the request was a template affidavit and that it had received multiple identical affidavits.

At the end of the letter, it requested the student submit additional information and said it would “carefully review” it.

Andrew Chen and Noé Chartier contributed to this report.
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