Students deregistered from McMaster for refusing vaccine on religious grounds

Michalski et. al v. McMaster University

Students deregistered from McMaster for refusing vaccine on religious grounds

Michalski et. al v. McMaster University

In March 2022, the Justice Centre filed a judicial review against McMaster University’s decision to withdraw four McMaster students from their programs, for deciding against taking the Covid vaccine. Lawyers working with the Justice Centre represented four students, including two doctoral students, an MBA student at the DeGroote School of Business, and an Honours Biochemistry undergraduate student. The two-day hearing took place on March 16 and 17, 2022, before a panel of three judges of the Ontario Divisional Court.

The decision was released on April 29, 2022. Though it had jurisdiction to do so, the Division Court declined to exercise its decision and refused to make a decision on the reasonableness of McMaster’s decisions. This was due to the fact that in the Courts’ opinion, the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal is an adequate alternative to judicial review.

McMaster introduced a mandatory vaccine policy in the 2021 fall study term. The policy required all students to take two doses of approved Covid shots or face being removed from their program. Students were permitted to request exemptions to the mandatory vaccine policy, which are considered by the Equity and Inclusion Office. Students were not told they would be withdrawn from their programs until after their exemption requests were denied by McMaster.

The available Covid vaccines are known to have been tested against a cell-line known as HEK-293, which McMaster’s own vaccine FAQ website describes as “replications of tissue from elective abortions that happened 30 to 60 years ago.” The students requested exemptions from McMaster’s mandatory vaccination policy on human rights grounds, however McMaster refused their exemption requests, claiming that there was no connection between the students’ religious beliefs and their refusal to receive the Covid vaccine.

“McMaster’s decisions to potentially destroy the academic and future professional careers of these bright and promising students was heavy-handed and cruel. These students are honest, intelligent and sincere in their beliefs. We asked the Court to find that the University’s decision was unreasonable and that the process leading to it was unfair,” says Jorge Pineda, legal counsel for the students.

“The four students are all devout Catholics or Orthodox Christians who, according to their faith, are obligated to avoid condoning or benefitting from abortion. While others may come to a different conclusion, these students’ religious beliefs require them to decline vaccination. McMaster’s claim that these students’ exemption requests have no nexus with their religious beliefs is absurd,” adds lawyer Rob Kittredge.

In October 2022, five McMaster Students filed applications with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario claiming compensation for being discriminated against contrary to the Ontario Human Rights Code. The students all assert that they are observant Christians with religious objections to abortion. Their religiously -rounded morals made the Covid vaccines, which were neither tested or developed with fetal cell lines, unacceptable. In their applications, they claim that McMaster’s decision to deregister them from their courses discriminated against them based on religion.

As of October 20, 2023, five of the applications have been accepted by the HRTO.

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