Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms represented the student before the human rights tribunal
A fourth-year college student has filed a human rights complaint against Ontario Tech University after being denied completion of his last semester for failure to comply with a mandatory vaccine policy.
According to the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, the complainant, Philip Anisimov, has been refusing COVID-19 vaccines since he believed that receiving the vaccines violates his conscience and religious duty. In August 2021, Chief Medical Health Officer of Ontario Kieran Moore issued a health care directive requiring all post-secondary education institutions across the province to offer students three choices as part of their COVID-19 vaccine plans, any of which will facilitate students’ access to campus:
- Show proof of double vaccination;
- Show medical exemption which institutions must approve; or
- Offer a COVID-19 vaccine education session on the safety and benefits of the vaccine — if students choose this option, they must undergo frequent testing.
The complainant requested accommodation from the university, but it denied his request. Even though the complainant is not a Catholic, the Justice Centre said that the university relied on the Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto’s statement on the COVID-19 vaccine to justify the denial.
In November 2021, the Justice Centre informed the university that failure to accommodate the complainant could result in legal action. The university then agreed to accommodate the complainant for the remainder of the fall term but refused to extend the accommodation to winter term, which would be his final semester.
The Justice Centre said that the university did not provide the complainant with any alternatives to finish his semester on time and within budget. Regardless, he enrolled for the winter term, hoping he will be allowed to complete his capstone course — a class in a course of study required to be taken towards the end of a student’s degree.
On Feb. 2, the Justice Centre requested that the university not de-register the complainant from his capstone course. The Justice Centre noted that the university denied the request despite the complainant’s willingness to comply with the province’s health care guidelines.
Represented by the Justice Centre, the complainant filed an application with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, alleging discrimination on account of religious beliefs.
“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,” Hatim Kheir, Justice Centre staff lawyer, said. “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,” Kheir added.