Letter to Honourable Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health of Ontario
October 22, 2021
Sent via email to [email protected]
Hon. Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health of Ontario
College Park 5th Floor,
777 Bay Street, Toronto, ON M7A 2J3
Dear Hon. Deputy Premier and Minister Elliot:
Re: Proof of Vaccination requirements
I am writing on behalf of ARCH Disability Law Centre to express urgent concern about the Ministry’s guidance with respect to mandatory vaccines and the roll out of the Proof of Vaccination requirements, set out under Ontario Regulation 364/20. Our concerns are multifold, but centre around the discriminatory impact that these measures are having on persons with disabilities in Ontario. For clarity and for the purposes of this letter, our concerns can be grouped into two categories:
- the Ministry’s guidance documents are promoting an overly narrow and discriminatory interpretation of the exemptions to the Proof of Vaccine requirements; and
- the failure to include persons with medical exemptions in the official QR code system for vaccine certificates is exclusionary, discriminatory, and a breach of privacy.
This letter will address each of these concerns in more detail below.
1) Guidance documents must not promote discriminatory interpretation
The Ministry’s guidance, purporting to provide clarity regarding the Proof of Vaccination requirements, has contributed to significant and discriminatory barriers for persons with disabilities who cannot receive a COVID-19 vaccine due to their disability.
While Ontario Regulation 364/20 contemplates exemption language that allows room for a human rights interpretation, the Ministry has released a Sample Statement of Medical Exemption: COVID-19 Immunization-Public Use and a guidance document on Medical Exemptions to COVID-19 Vaccination that together encourage an overly narrow and discriminatory application of the regulation. Namely, the Sample Statement reduces the possible reasons for being exempt to only severe allergic reaction, myocarditis (for persons age 12 to 17), or complications following receipt of a COVID-19 vaccine. The Medical Exemptions guidance document suggests similar limited exemptions. Meanwhile, glaringly absent from these materials is any reference that exemptions ought to be applied in a manner that is consistent with Ontario’s Human Rights Code.
While these guidance documents may be non-binding and have been created seemingly without regulatory basis, they have extremely pervasive impacts in the manner in which physicians and service providers consider exemptions.
This overly narrow interpretation appears to have either originated from or is echoed by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, who has maintained on their website the unjustifiably narrow exemptions of only allergies or myocarditis/pericarditis. ARCH’s concerns were raised directly with the College on September 17, 2021 but we have not received a response.
The narrow interpretation of exemptions means that persons with disabilities who cannot receive the vaccine, but who fall outside these categories, will be unjustifiably excluded from exemption, contrary to what is contemplated by the regulation and contrary to human rights laws.
We have received numerous reports from our clients that physicians and specialists who otherwise are unsupportive of them receiving the vaccine are refusing to provide medical exemption letters. This can only be attributed to the problematic guidance documents from the Ministry and the overly narrow interpretation adopted by the College. These are the real and dire consequences of the Ministry’s failure to put in place accurate guidance documents.
2) Official QR codes must include medical exemptions
In addition to the accessibility concerns that have been voiced by disability-rights advocates, for those persons with disabilities who have received an exemption, the Ministry’s roll out of the vaccine certificates with official QR codes leaves these individuals exposed to violations of privacy and dignity.
While persons who have received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine can download a QR code to demonstrate they meet the requirements for entry into establishments, persons who are exempt have been left as an afterthought. These individuals are required to present exemption documentation that reveals extremely personal information about their disability. The Ministry’s Questions and Answers document, dated October 15, 2021, vaguely states that “updates” will be provided as to when exemptions will be included in the QR code system, but no other information has been provided.
In the interests of the general public and protecting the rights of our most vulnerable persons, any messaging by the Ministry that unjustifiably narrows the medical exemption regulation is troubling and inappropriate. Similarly, any exclusion of exempt persons from access to the official QR code system is discriminatory, as well as a violation of dignity and privacy. Human rights protections under Ontario’s Human Rights Code continue to fully apply during a pandemic, and any piece of legislation, regulation, or government measure must be interpreted accordingly.
We urge the Ministry to immediately clarify its messaging in its guidance material and ensure that the College do the same. It is paramount that medical exemptions for vaccine certificates must be provided in an individualized manner so as to not unjustifiably restrict those persons who cannot be vaccinated for disability-related reasons, and to respect the human rights of those persons. Similarly, for those who have received their exemption, it is imperative that these exemptions are absorbed into the QR code system so as to not unjustifiably single out anyone on the basis of disability.
We kindly request a meeting with you to discuss how to remedy the resulting discrimination that is flowing from these measures. We ask that you please respond with times that you are available to discuss the above concerns.
ARCH Disability Law Centre
Original letter has digital signature
cc: Premier Doug Ford [email protected]
Christine Elliott, Minister of Health [email protected]
Helen Angus, Deputy Minister of Health [email protected]
Raymond Cho, Minister of Seniors and Accessibility [email protected]
Denise Cole, Deputy Minister for Seniors and Accessibility [email protected]
Patricia DeGuire, Chief Commissioner, Ontario Human Rights Commission [email protected]