EDMONTON, ALBERTA: The Justice Centre represents a student who attends the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (“NAIT”) in a two-year Architectural Technology program. The student has been denied the opportunity to continue his studies due to NAIT’s mandatory Covid vaccine policy, which the student has declined based on his religious beliefs. The student, who cannot be named, has filed a Complaint with the Alberta Human Rights Commission for a hearing on discrimination due to religious beliefs.
The student was on the path to completing his program by the end of this year and was hoping to begin his career at the start of 2023. Although some of the student’s courses were offered and available online for the winter semester, NAIT refused to provide any accommodation to allow this student to complete his studies. The student objects to receiving the Covid inoculation on religious grounds. He objects to the use of aborted fetal cell lines in the testing and development of the vaccines, and insists that accepting these shots would violate his conscience and religious responsibility. Under the Alberta Human Rights Act, NAIT has a duty to accommodate religious differences, to the point of undue hardship.
Alberta scrapped its Covid vaccine passport system on February 9, 2022, after it had become very clear that the Covid vaccines did not stop the Omicron and Delta variants from spreading, and after vaccine manufacturers themselves had stated publicly that the vaccines do not stop the spread.
On September 13, 2021, nine Alberta post-secondary institutions, including NAIT, announced in a joint release their plans to coerce or pressure students into taking the Covid vaccine. NAIT informed its students, after they had paid tuition without any vaccination conditions or requirements, that starting November 1, 2021, everyone arriving on campus needed to be vaccinated. During this time the Alberta government did not have plans to introduce a province-wide proof-of-vaccination program, and left the decision on vaccine mandates up to individual workplaces and businesses.
NAIT’s vaccination policy required all students and staff coming to NAIT campuses or properties to have two Covid injections, or to have an approved accommodation due to a diagnosed medical condition or in accordance with a protected ground under the Alberta Human Rights Act.
NAIT did not offer an education session and/or testing option as alternative accommodations to students following the full implementation of its mandatory vaccine policy.
On December 14, 2021, NAIT denied the student’s request for accommodation. Despite his statements on scripture and his faith, NAIT denied there was any relation to the context of his case and stated it did not find a substantial link between the materials cited and any religious requirement. NAIT took the position that the student’s suggestions that the Covid-19 vaccines are experimental, dangerous, or contain fetal elements, are not supported by credible sources, such as the Government of Alberta. NAIT stated that it felt the student’s position spoke to a personal preference rather than an adherence to a particular religious requirement.
On May 9, 2022, the Justice Centre wrote a letter to the Office of the Director at the Alberta Human Rights Commission on behalf of the student to provide further submissions as a reply to NAIT’s Response. The Justice Centre argued that there was no justification for the college to deny the student’s request for a religious exemption and for its claim that the Complaint is without merit. The Justice Centre requested that the student’s Complaint proceed to the Chief of the Commission and Tribunals for a resolution by a Human Rights Tribunal.
The student enrolled for the winter term starting in January 2022 with the hope of completing the courses for Level 2 Term 2 in order to move him closer to finishing his program by the end of the school year in April 2022. As a result of NAIT’s refusal to provide an accommodation, he was unable to enroll in courses where he would have been given the chance to increase his technical knowledge related to architectural construction.
“It is not up to colleges and universities to anoint themselves with the authority to determine what qualifies as a genuine tenant of a person’s faith,” states Chris Naimi, Justice Centre Lawyer. “It is worrying to see taxpayer-funded institutions pretending to know what truly is or is not a violation of a person’s religious belief. Colleges and universities have a duty to accommodate sincerely held religious beliefs and help students complete their education,” says Mr. Naimi.
The student’s plans to complete his program by April of 2022 have been completely disrupted by NAIT’s decision. The student also lost his opportunity to apply for a one-week internship opportunity.
The student’s Complaint is currently before the Alberta Human Rights Commission, where it has been referred to the Office of the Director for a decision.