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Ontario universities require vaccination to be on campus; ‘more clarity’ next week at UVic

The decisions of several top-tier universities in Canada to make COVID-19 vaccination a requirement to return to campus is putting pressure on holdouts to follow suit.
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A dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine being prepared at the COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the University of Toronto campus in Mississauga, Ont., Thursday, May 6, 2021. Some of Canada's top-tier universities are making COVID-19 vaccination a requirement to return to campus this fall, renewing calls by faculty and students at other post-secondary institutions for their administrations to follow suit. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tijana Martin

The decisions of several top-tier universities in Canada to make COVID-19 vaccination a requirement to return to campus is putting pressure on holdouts to follow suit.

At the University of Victoria, president Kevin Hall issued a statement Friday saying he supports mandatory indoor masking and a policy is being developed. UVic is discussing vaccine policies with the province and other universities “and we hope to have more clarity next week,” he said. “As a research university, it is important for us to ensure that measures put in place are evidence-based, and can be implemented without impacting privacy laws, human rights and access to education.”

Camosun College said in a statement that it is “closely monitoring” the COVID-19 situation and following all guidelines and recommendations, and should changes occur it will act immediately to address them.

The president of University of British Columbia voiced his support Friday for mandatory vaccination, and said UBC is in talks with the provincial government about the issue.

At least five of the Ontario schools calling for vaccinations are members of the U15 group of major Canadian research universities — University of Toronto, University of Ottawa, Western University in London, Queen’s University in Kingston and University of Waterloo.

University of Windsor joined the tide Friday, while Carleton University in Ottawa, University of Guelph, Ontario Tech University in Oshawa, Ont., and Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont., issued immunization mandates Thursday.

University of Victoria Faculty Association president Lynne Marks said her group has called for a vaccine mandate. “The Ministry of Advanced Education told the universities right at the end of July that they could not implement a mask mandate for indoor classrooms or a vaccine mandate unless the public-health office approved it, and they haven’t,” Marks said. “So I’m very frustrated.”

She said Ontario universities can enact vaccine mandates because they have significantly more independence than their B.C. counterparts.

A provincewide petition from the association calling for a vaccine mandate has drawn over 1,100 responses in its first two days, Marks said, while a survey of the association’s members this month saw 85 per cent of the 460 who voted support a vaccine mandate.

Many academics applauded the policy shift to a vaccine mandate in Ontario, while others have raised concerns that some schools’ protocols don’t go far enough to protect against the highly contagious Delta variant of COVID-19.

Advocates acknowledge these measures may create complications as students head back to the classroom this fall, but say schools that don’t require inoculation risk the safety of their campus communities along with their reputations.

“It was clearly a question of waiting for the first domino to fall,” said Scott Forbes, president of the Manitoba Organization of Faculty Associations. “The smaller universities are now going to feel the pressure, and I think it’s just a matter of time for most Canadian universities.” The biology professor at University of Winnipeg said faculty members who favour vaccine mandates have faced resistance from school administrators who say such measures would be too challenging to implement.

For much of the summer, that seemed to be the prevailing consensus among Canada’s post-secondary institutions, even as many U.S. counterparts ratified rigorous vaccine rules.

Seneca College in Toronto broke from the pack this summer by making vaccination a prerequisite of in-person learning, while offering students the option of online education.

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