Western University’s requirement for students and staff to disclose vaccination status to return to campus next year contravenes provincial information and privacy laws, according to a demand letter sent to the university by a civil liberties lawyer on behalf of several Western students.
The letter was sent by Lisa Bildy of Libertas Law, who writes that she represents “a group of students who are registered to attend Western University’s upcoming fall semester, and their parents.”
Bildy’s letter says there are “numerous causes of action” her clients might pursue in the future, but she focuses specifically on the privacy laws which limit how institutions can collect and store personal data, in particular health information.
“Western does not have authorization under either the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (“FIPPA”) or under the Personal Health Information Protection Act (“PHIPA”) to collect the personal information of its staff and students,” the letter says.
In its Covid vaccination policy, Western says its vaccination records and requests for accommodation will comply with FIPPA and PHIPA, but Bildy says this is difficult to square with what those acts actually say.
PHIPA does not include universities as “health information custodians” except in circumstances where they are operating hospitals or health care clinics.
“(PHIPA) does not empower institutions to demand medical information that FIPPA prohibits them from collecting,” Bildy writes.
Western’s vaccine policy, announced last week, requires all students, staff and visitors to have at least three doses of a Covid vaccine and to provide proof of vaccination status to the university by October 1 to be allowed on campus. The policy was announced two weeks before the start of the school year.
“You are inexplicably mandating a blanket medical treatment without any consideration of individual risk factors, natural immunity, or the ethics (or lack thereof) of coercing injections to receive education service,” Bildy writes. “This is unconscionable.”
Bildy notes that universities may have found legal justification for their proof of vaccination requirements last year under the Reopening Ontario Act, but that act has effectively been revoked with no state of emergency in effect in Ontario.
“Therefore, the university has no legal authority to require students, employees or visitors to disclose whether they have taken an injection (whether one, two, three or ten),” Bildy writes. “To be clear, my clients will not be disclosing their private medical information to Western. It is simply none of your business.”
The letter leaves the door open to litigation, but says Western can avoid this simply by “amending the Policy to merely recommend the booster shot and leaving the ultimate decision for individual consideration, as most of the world is now doing.”