Vaccine-injured student takes Ontario university to court, but future remains uncertain
Report by Curtis Heinen - 2 March 2022, original to the Toronto Moon.
Under the guidance of the provincial Chief Medical Officer of Health, all universities across Ontario implemented COVID-19 vaccination policies in the fall of 2021. These policies include a strict requirement that all students, faculty, and staff entering campuses must be fully vaccinated with two doses of a COVID-19 injection, with rare exceptions to be granted. Justin, a first-year Juris Doctor Law student, recounts his difficult experience with his university after suffering a vaccine injury from the first shot, ultimately ending in legal action against the school. His story is one of many who have unduly suffered because of poor communication and failure to accommodate on the part of university administrations.
Justin was not too concerned about the mRNA technology at first but was slightly hesitant to receive his first dose. He was waiting on more information about the vaccines because he was not working at the time, and was spending much of his time outside of the city. When talks of the university-wide vaccine mandate began, Justin thought it prudent to receive his first dose with the hope that he would be able to attend in-person courses. The consequences for Justin were wicked.
“Immediately, I started having chest pain and irregular heartbeat. It got pretty bad.”
ECG and blood tests at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Hospital ruled out blood clotting, and Justin was advised to see his family doctor. Three weeks later, he was referred to a cardiologist, which in turn took three weeks. Six weeks after his initial symptoms, Justin was still experiencing repetitive although less severe chest pain. He was diagnosed with sinus tachycardia, a medical condition for which his university does not grant exemptions from further vaccination. For such an exemption, one needs to have suffered either myocarditis or anaphylaxis from the first shot, both extremely serious conditions. Although he was still able to attend online classes and complete his coursework, Justin’s heart problems continued to plague him.
Despite having a duty under law to accommodate students with medical disabilities, the university automatically de-enrolled Justin in early February 2022 amid the university-wide switch from online to in-person classes. After the experience with the first vaccine dose, he was not prepared to take the second. With his medical situation still under investigation, the university was unwilling to accommodate. Justin exhausted his options at the university, reaching out to Human Rights Services, the Provost, President, and Ombudsperson at the school to no avail. Even his professors refused to help, despite their ability to use their own discretion for accommodations.
“It’s really frustrating. I’m not being heard and… one thing is I’ve had communications with some of these professors beforehand just on academic matters and they’re usually pretty prompt in getting back to me but when I indicate I’m at risk of being de-enrolled because I’m not fully vaccinated, I don’t hear anything from them. And to a lot of these people, I’ve communicated that I have a medical problem under investigation, and we’ve spoken about that.”
Prior to his de-enrollment, Justin retained a legal team to assist him. He notified the university that he would be filing an injunction, but they didn’t budge. So, following his de-enrollment, Justin followed through, filing the injunction and a lawsuit. The details of the case remain confidential, but after a week of negotiation, a settlement was reached. Justin has since been re-enrolled and can finish his semester online, completing his final exams in a separate location from the rest of the students. However, uncertainty remains surrounding future semesters as the university has merely agreed to “act in good faith” when deciding on future accommodations. Despite the Ontario Provincial Government’s announcement that it would end vaccine mandates on March 1st, the university seems intent on maintaining its vaccination policy.
Justin wants to finish his education but is unsure if he will be able to do so given the political climate around vaccine mandates. If his university fails to accommodate him, will he be able to turn elsewhere? It’s hard to tell as of now. This Ontario university is not the only post-secondary institution to uphold its vaccination policy so vehemently as the province begins to loosen restrictions. What does this tell us about the intentions behind the policy? In Justin’s case, it certainly wasn’t to support his health.
“For those in a similar situation, the law is probably on your side and if you keep pushing, if you keep fighting, you have a right to remain in school. They have a duty to accommodate, and I know in my case they were really counting on me just giving up. You just have to stand up. Don’t make it easy on people to try and shut you out. You have a right to participate in the world more generally, but in academia specifically. You have a right to an education.”
Curtis Heinen pursues a Bachelor's degree in Urban and Regional Planning with a minor in Philosophy at Ryerson University. He is a founding member of The Amity Project, an organization by students for students dedicated to advancing medical freedom.