Commerce student sues Queen’s over the former vaccine mandate

The University denies the student’s request from vaccine exemption

The vaccine mandate at Queen’s was in effect from 2021-22.

In the midst of COVID-19 public health measures, Esther Shenouda, Comm ’24, filed a claim in superior court challenging Queen’s University’s mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy. 

Shenouda filed the claim on Jan. 14, 2022, after moving to online school after having two creed-based exemptions from the vaccine policy denied. Shenouda is, and comes from a family of, devout practicing Christians according to the claim.

The Queen’s vaccination policy was announced on Aug. 12, 2021, and required all students, staff, and faculty returning to on-campus activities to be fully vaccinated with two doses of an approved vaccine by Oct. 15, 2021. 

READ MORE: Queen’s to require COVID-19 vaccination for Fall 2021

In her notice of action, Shenouda claimed damages stemming from the mandatory vaccination policy. Shenouda requested an order from the Court quashing the Queen’s vaccine policy. The claim called the policy arbitrary, illegal, discriminatory, and negligently designed. 

The claim by Shenouda was made based on provisions in the Human Rights Code, Health Care Consent Act, Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, and the Personal Health Information Protection Act

Shenouda requested an interim order ensuring Queen’s didn’t enforce the vaccine policy against any students enrolled. The alternative relief in the lawsuit was that Shenouda should be granted an exemption from the vaccine policy. 

According to the notice of action, Shenouda believes the Human Rights Code places a duty on the University to accommodate her, which she believes they have failed to do. 

Shenouda alleged, because she was unable to provide proof of vaccination, she was deregistered from her winter term courses in the 2021-22 academic year. 

In the notice of action, Shenouda alleged the decision to deregister her is “irrational” and unsupported by evidence. 

“The deregistration decision, and the university’s conduct in the implementation of its Policy, have caused Esther to experience anxiety, depression, and stress, and a general deterioration in her mental health, for which Queen’s is wholly responsible,” the notice of action reads. 

READ MORE: Classes to be delivered remotely until March 2022

Shenouda submitted a request for exemption to the vaccine policy on Sept. 6, 2021, and it was denied on Sept. 27, 2021. In court records, Shenouda included an affidavit with multiple correspondences between Queen’s administrators and herself. 

On Oct. 8, 2021, Shenouda received an email from the Dean of the Smith School of Business Wanda Costen, stating Shenouda would be academically deregistered from in-person courses on Oct. 16, 2021. 

Academic advisors then assisted Shenouda in switching her course load fully online for the fall 2021 term. In a Nov. 25, 2021, correspondence from Costen, it was made clear students were required to be fully vaccinated by Jan. 10 to be allowed to attend in-person classes. 

This was before the Dec. 16 announcement that classes were moving online for six weeks in the winter 2022 term. 

On Dec. 2, 2021, the University’s lawyer wrote back to Shenouda’s legal team re-affirming the original denial and advising that her reconsideration request for the original vaccine policy exemption was denied. 

In email communications with academic advisors submitted to court, Shenouda repeatedly alleged the academic uncertainty was taking a toll on her mental health. 

On Dec. 17, 2021, Shenouda checked SOLUS according to her affidavit, where she learned she had been deregistered from all her winter term courses.

After the deregistration, Shenouda was only allowed to take Arts and Science Online winter courses, or study at another institution under a letter of permission. This was despite courses moving online for six weeks. 

“After being forced to switch to online learning because of the denial of my exemption request [in fall term], I felt alienated from the school community. I was banned from participating in on-campus classes and activities, and I felt unwelcome and felt that Queen’s and Smith discriminated against me,” Shenouda said in her affidavit submitted to court. 

Shenouda further alleged after disclosing her vaccine status, the University treated her differently and had done little to assist her. 

In filed evidence, Shenouda claimed the COVID-19 vaccination policy had done little to curb the spread of COVID-19 in the fall term. She cited the example of the Dec. 8 outbreak in the varsity sports community. 

She further claimed she had “natural immunity” from COVID-19, as she recovered from the virus before the start of the winter 2022 term. Shenouda was unsure why this wasn’t grounds to receive an exemption from the policy, according to her affidavit.

In the University’s communications responding to Shenouda’s lawyers on Dec. 2, 2021, the University highlighted the advice given by scientists. Namely, the University explained the implications of the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Vaccination offers substantial protection against severe health outcomes [...] Among the unvaccinated, [the Science Advisory and Modelling Consensus Table] do expect to see a rapid increase in the number of seriously ill people needing hospital care as workplaces and schools reopen,” a letter from Queen’s lawyers to Shenouda’s lawyers read. 

Queen’s further explained there was no breach of the Charter or the Human Rights Code. The University said they take seriously its obligation to accommodate, including for creed-based reasons. 

“Queen’s has a legal and moral obligation to maintain a workplace that is as safe as reasonably possible for its employees, to provide a learning environment that is as safe as reasonably possible for its students, and to enforce policies that prevent the children and family of our faculty, staff, and students from being endangered unnecessarily,” Queen’s lawyer said in the letter.

In the same letter, the University said they accept the belief against vaccinations by Shenouda may be sincere and based on religious scripture—but the sincerity of these beliefs isn’t enough to establish a creed-based claim.

Shenouda originally alleged the COVID-19 vaccine had evidence of cell lines from abortions. The University responded to this claim by explaining mRNA vaccines in Canada were neither designed, developed, or contained, the cells of any aborted fetuses. 

In a Jan. 24 court filing, it was noted both parties agreed to temporarily reinstate Shenouda back to commerce classes—this meant an interim order from the Court was not needed.

At the time of publication, Shenouda declined to comment when contacted by The Journal.

The University did not respond to The Journal’s request for comment—including questions about the current state of the case—at the time of publication.

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