Student files human rights complaint against Ontario Tech University

ONTARIO: The Justice Centre represents Philip Anisimov, who attends Ontario Tech University in a four-year Mechanical Engineering Program. Mr. Anisimov has been denied completion of his last semester due to a mandatory vaccine policy which violates his religious beliefs. The Justice Centre has filed an Application with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal for a hearing on discrimination due to religious beliefs.

Mr. Anisimov was scheduled to complete his final semester and begin his career in April of this year. Despite most of his classes operating online for the fall semester, the University has refused to provide any accommodation to Mr. Anisimov.

Ontario has confirmed it is scrapping the Covid vaccine passport system on March 1. The Covid vaccines do not prevent infection or transmission.

Mr. Anisimov objects to receiving Covid shots 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 his religious duty. Under the Ontario Human Rights Code, the University has a duty to accommodate religious differences up to a point of undue hardship.

On August 30, 2021, Dr. Kieran Moore, Chief Medical Health Officer of Ontario, provided all post-secondary education institutions in the province with instructions requiring them to offer students three choices as part of their Covid-19 vaccine plans, any of which would facilitate their access to campus:

  1. Show proof of double vax; or,
  2. Show medical exemption which the University must approve; or,
  3. Offer a Covid-19 vaccine education session on the safety and benefits of the vaccine – if students choose this option they must frequently test.

Ontario Tech University does not offer an education session and/or testing option to its students.

On October 5, 2021, the University denied Mr. Anisimov’s request for accommodation. Despite the fact that Mr. Anisimov is not Catholic, the University relied on the Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto’s statement on the vaccine to justify their decision. The University argued that “major faith leaders” in Canada support vaccination. They also asked for proof that Mr. Anisimov had not received other vaccines during elementary or secondary school.

On November 2, 2021, the Justice Centre wrote a letter on behalf of Mr. Anisimov warning the University that a failure to accommodate could result in legal action. The University agreed to accommodate Mr. Anisimov for the remainder of the Fall term but refused to extend that accommodation to the Winter term, which would be his final semester. Mr. Anisimov was not provided with any alternatives to allow him to finish his program on time and within budget.

Mr. Anisimov enrolled in his courses for the Winter term with the hope that the situation would improve and he would be allowed to complete his degree. He was motivated by his “Capstone” course which is a full-year course where students work in a group under the supervision of a professor to research, develop, build, and present a prototype. Mr. Anisimov had already invested the time and effort in the fall semester. He also felt an obligation to his student group to try and continue in the course.

On February 2, 2022, the Justice Centre made a request to the University on behalf of Mr. Anisimov that he not be de-registered from the Capstone course. Mr. Anisimov is willing to comply with any health measures or guidelines. He is even willing to agree not to attend campus and to accept a grade of zero on the course’s in-person components if only he would be allowed to complete the course. Despite Mr. Anisimov’s willingness to work with the University to find an agreeable arrangement, his request was denied.

“The University has tried to characterize Mr. Anisimov’s belief as a personal preference by arguing that vaccination is not truly contrary to his faith,” states Hatim Kheir, Justice Centre Staff Lawyer. “Decision-makers are not permitted to engage in speculation and theological debates about which dogma is correct. So long as a belief is religious in nature and sincerely held, it must be accommodated,” says Mr. Kheir.

Mr. Anisimov’s plans have been completely derailed by the University’s decision. “I should have been looking for work right now, but I can’t do that,” states Mr. Anisimov. In the face of the University’s decision to de-register him from his courses, Mr. Anisimov said he has started looking at Universities in the United States which will come at a greater cost. “Regardless of what path I take, I lose a lot of time and money,” he concludes.

Mr. Anisimov’s application is currently before the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal for acceptance of his complaint.