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University of Sask. student’s religion won’t allow for COVID-19 vaccine, leads to eviction from campus residence

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SASKATOON -

Third-year University of Saskatchewan student Jimmy Ding, originally from China, has lived in Canada since 2014, and has been staying at St. Andrew’s College while pursuing a degree in geological engineering.

He said his religion, which he prefers not to disclose, doesn’t allow him to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, and this has resulted in him being evicted from his campus residence. 

"I just practice what my religion script tells me to do," Ding said, adding he’s providing proof of negative tests to the college. “Because my vaccination status, and they try to evict me. I feel it’s not very appropriate."

"When the pandemic just started, and there were a lot of people they had some confusion that 'Oh, Chinese people they have a virus and they are dangerous,' it's not true."

Principal of St. Andrew’s College Richard Manley-Tannis said the living space at the college is communal with a shared kitchen and shared bathrooms, and because of the building’s age, it has no ventilation system.

"It became clear that a significant amount of the current residents were not comfortable with having somebody unvaccinated, even with rapid testing in place, and owing to the context of the building," he said.

Ding claims other residents at the college were only told that he wouldn’t receive the vaccine, and not the reason why he wouldn’t.

"This is distorted information, to try to justify their discrimination," he said.

Manley-Tannis explained it was not an easy decision to make, but it was about the safety of others and not a person’s race or religion. Ultimately, he said there wasn’t the physical space available to quarantine someone should they test positive for COVID-19.

"In this COVID-world, the community's safety takes precedent," he said. "It's very clear that educational institutions are exempt from eviction expectations, and likely for reasons exactly like that—because of the nature of our communal living context. We can't accommodate the way that we would like to."

"And let's be very clear, if St. Andrew’s had the physical capacity to offer this resident a space that honoured his request for religious accommodation, we would provide that."

Manley-Tannis said Ding must be out of the college before Nov. 19.

Human rights commission response

Ding said he’s been in contact with the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission (SHRC) about his eviction. 

"It says duty for the service provider to provide the accommodation for people who cannot give a proof of vaccine," he said. "In order to balance this consideration and the safety issue, the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission said negative COVID tests could be (an) alternative to solve this issue and balance both sides."

"I have the freedom of practice, of religious practice."

In a statement to CTV News, SHRC said some people may not be able to receive the COVID-19 vaccine due to a reason protected by the code.

"However, these cases are rare and must be supported by evidence. Objection to vaccination based on personal preference is not protected by the code," SHRC said. 

"Employers and service providers have a duty to reasonably accommodate individuals who cannot receive the vaccine due to a reason protected by the code, to the point of undue hardship.

Accommodation does not have to be perfect nor does it have to be the individual’s preferred accommodation, but it must be reasonable. Reasonable accommodation will differ on a case-by-case basis,” SHRC said. 

Finding another place to live

Ding said the eviction letter on his record makes it harder for him to find a new place to live, and the process has been stressful as the weather gets colder.

"I probably will live on the street, or I talk to my friend or if they could give me a place," Ding said. "I have no clue, I really have no clue."

"I just wish people could be nice to a refugee."

Manley-Tannis said St. Andrew's College and the U of S have shared resources for alternative accommodations with Ding.

"I am well aware that there is actually space or alternative space within the city," Manley-Tannis said.

"I also understand that the University of Saskatchewan has reached out or is intending to reach out to explore on campus facilities that have that quarantine capacity or a room that has its own bathroom and a room that has its own kitchen, which the college does not and is not able to provide."

In a statement from Jay Wilson, interim vice-provost teaching, learning, and student experience with the university, said he would not provide specifics on individual situations for privacy reasons, but said "students living in any USask residences are required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 with having received two doses of a WHO-approved COVID-19 vaccine a minimum of 14 days prior to moving in."

Uof S vaccination policy

The university’s current COVID-19 policy requires anyone who’s accessing the campus to provide proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test, and it will be changing to proof of double vaccination as the only way to access campus starting Jan. 4, 2022.

Wilson said the university "will continue to consider accommodation requests for these individuals in accordance with the requirements of the code. Only those with an approved accommodation, as appropriate and in limited circumstance, will be allowed on campus without being fully vaccinated."

Ding said he’s spoken with U of S president Peter Stoicheff, and under grounds protected by the Human Rights Code, will continue to provide negative COVID-19 test results to attend classes at the university in person passed Jan. 4.

Manley-Tannis said St. Andrew’s College is an affiliated college and is completely autonomous, so it can operate under different guidelines, and providing a negative test isn’t enough to continue to live there.

"If anything has become clear, it’s that rapid testing actually isn't 100% (effective). Rapid testing is a moment in time that doesn't actually tell you whether or not, as I understand the science, whether or not you're able to spread it at that stage," he said.

"It's whether you're asymptomatic or symptomatic. And so rapid testing is helpful, but in a communal nature by the time that rapid test ends up displaying that you are positive you could have already been basically a carrier, and though asymptomatic, spreading the virus in a communal nature."

Ding argues since everyone else in the living space has been vaccinated they should be protected from infection, and encourages doctors and physicians to investigate other forms of immunity.

"There are certain groups of people, they practice their religion, they’re doing meditation to improve their immune system," he said. "Some people, based on their worldview have their method, some people they will take other methods."

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