Vaccine mandates permissible as long as those with exemptions are accommodated: Ontario commission

Click to play video: 'Ontario COVID-19 vaccine certificate system takes effect'
Ontario COVID-19 vaccine certificate system takes effect
WATCH ABOVE: Sean O'Shea got reaction from business owners on the day Ontario's COVID-19 vaccine certificate system went into effect – Sep 22, 2021

The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) says COVID-19 vaccine mandates are “generally permissible” as long as those with legitimate exemptions are able to be “reasonably accommodated.”

The OHRC released a statement discussing its position on vaccination requirements on the same day the provincial government’s vaccine certificate system took effect.

Under the new provincial regulations, people looking to access many indoor (and some outdoor) settings across the province now have to show proof of full vaccination along with a piece of government-issued identification in order to be allowed to enter.

Restaurants and bars (excluding outdoor patios), gyms, meeting and event spaces, nightclubs (including outdoor areas), sporting events and gaming establishments are among the facilities covered under the new rules.

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Those with proof of a legitimate medical exemption must show a doctor’s note “until recognized medical exemptions can be integrated as part of a digital vaccine certificate,” a provincial government news release said earlier this month.

The policy doesn’t apply to essential services including medical care and grocery stores.

“While receiving a COVID-19 vaccine remains voluntary, the OHRC takes the position that mandating and requiring proof of vaccination to protect people at work or when receiving services is generally permissible under the Human Rights Code (Code) as long as protections are put in place to make sure people who are unable to be vaccinated for Code-related reasons are reasonably accommodated,” the OHRC statement said.

“This applies to all organizations …

“Organizations must attempt to balance the rights of people who have not been vaccinated due to a Code-protected ground, such as disability, while ensuring individual and collective rights to health and safety.”

The commission added that vaccine mandates and testing alternatives that result in people being denied equal access to employment or services on Human Rights Code grounds “should only be used for the shortest possible length of time.”

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“Such policies might only be justifiable during a pandemic,” the statement said, while noting that the provincial proof of vaccination system does not propose to limit access to services for those who have legitimate exemptions.

The OHRC said organizations that have a “proven need for COVID-related health and safety requirements” may implement COVID-19 testing instead of vaccine mandates or as a way to accommodate people who have medical exemptions.

“Organizations should cover the costs of COVID testing as part of the duty to accommodate,” the statement said.

The OHRC also said a person who chooses to not be vaccinated “based on personal preference” does not have a right to accommodation under the Human Rights Code.

“While the Code prohibits discrimination based on creed, personal preferences or singular beliefs do not amount to a creed for the purposes of the Code,” the statement said.

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“Even if a person could show they were denied a service or employment because of a creed-based belief against vaccinations, the duty to accommodate does not necessarily require they be exempted from vaccine mandates, certification or COVID testing requirements.”

The commission said the duty to accommodate can be limited if it could “significantly compromise health and safety amounting to undue hardship,” like during a pandemic.

The OHRC noted that policies should be implemented to ensure legal safeguards when using personal health information.

The OHRC added that organizations and governments should work to ensure that vaccines and COVID-19 testing are easily accessible, and that enforcement of vaccine policies does not disproportionately target marginalized groups.

The full statement can be found on the OHRC website.

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