Case Alert: Divisional Court Dismisses Judicial Review of COVID-19 Vaccination Policy Challenge

In Lise Michalski v. McMaster University, 2022 ONSC 2625, the applicants were students at McMaster University and devout Christians who requested an exemption from McMaster University’s mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy, based on creed. McMaster denied their exemption requests and then un-enrolled them from their courses and programs until they complied with the mandate or until the mandate stopped applying. The University asserted there was insufficient nexus between their religious beliefs and their unwillingness to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

The Decision

The Court dismissed the judicial review application and held that the University was required to develop and implement a process for deciding exemption requests under substantial time and resource limitations, in the context of an ongoing public health crisis that challenged governments and public institutions worldwide. The applicants were given the oppurtunity to make written submissions supporting their requests for an exemption and these requests were reviewed and rejected with reasons. While the applicants had important interests, so too did the university given that they had to implement a policy to safeguard the health and safety of all students. The Court found that the process reasonably balanced the interests at stake in the difficult context in which the decisions had to be made.

Why This Matters

This is a helpful decision setting the framework for other employers with vaccination policies and reinforces that courts recognize the challenges that organizations were faced with in balance competing interests, health and safety concerns under tight timelines. At the same time, this decision does not necessarily undermine recent case law developments, particularly from the labour context that require employers to take a very deferential approach to religious exemption claims to vaccines based on sincere belief, even absent any recognized religious directive.

PooranLaw will continue to monitor the ongoing legal developments related to cases like these. In the meantime, if you require legal assistance, we encourage you to reach out to your regular PooranLaw lawyer, or any member of our team.

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