Academic journal

‘This is just the beginning’: Hundreds protest Western University’s vaccination mandate

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LONDON, Ont. — A protest against Western University’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate drew hundreds of people to the southwestern Ontario campus on Saturday for what an event organizer called the start of the campaign to overturn the controversial policy.

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Protesters marched on campus and listened as speakers denounced the University of London, Ontario’s decision to impose at least three doses of the vaccine on staff, students and some visitors.

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Organizer Kendra Hancock said she hoped the protest would lead to public negotiations and further student consultation on the university’s rules, which also include mandatory masking in classrooms.

“I think when they consult with students, they find that people want choice back and people want to take away all mandates,” Hancock said.

Speakers at the protest included a medical student, a former Huron University College professor who said she refused to comply with the school’s previous vaccination mandate, and the office’s acting chief medical officer. Haldimand-Norfolk Health Board who has been a vocal critic of COVID-19 mandates.

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Corrina Courtney, a fifth-year business student at Western, said she opposed the university’s mandate despite the fact that she had vaccinated herself, adding that the decision to get vaccinated ” should just be a choice.”

“I think it should be something universal and not under anyone’s judgment. Western shouldn’t have the power to make that decision for people,” she said as she watched the protest.

But Courtney said she was even more frustrated with the university’s reinstated mask mandate than the latest vaccine requirements.

“I think it impacts how you connect with your peers,” she said.

Most Ontario universities have not imposed vaccination or mask mandates for the fall semester, and the province has lifted rules for proof of vaccination in public spaces.

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Western is the only university in Canada to make booster shots mandatory for all staff and students on campus.

The University of Toronto and Trent University require those living in residence to receive three and two doses, respectively, and urge everyone else on campus to keep their vaccinations up to date.

“While we cannot predict when the next wave of COVID-19 may arrive, we believe these measures will help us protect the in-person experience that Western is known for,” Provost Florentine Strzelczyk said in a statement announcing the earlier updated policy. this week.

James Donalds said he was ready to join his fellow first-year nursing students on campus next month, but said on Saturday he would be absent this academic year if the vaccine policy was maintained.

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Donalds criticized what he called a lack of transparency around the university’s decision. He also questioned the timing of the announcement, which came after some students had already paid the first installment of tuition fees.

He said he felt “compelled” to get two doses earlier in the pandemic when evidence of vaccination rules was in place. Now, he said, having “realized the situation,” he doesn’t want a third shot.

Students carrying a banner reading “Enough is Enough” led the march around the university grounds as campus security watched. Posters denouncing “medical coercion” and others reading “I call my own shots” were common in the crowd, alongside Canadian flags.

Just as the march drew to a close, some protesters broke away from organizers and briefly resumed a one-block lane of traffic along Western Road before dispersing.

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The university said in a statement on Saturday that it respects “the right of students to peacefully protest on campus.”

The statement also said the university was “concerned” that the event might be used by groups “not associated with our campus community” for “reasons other than what our students intended,” although that it does not specify any particular group.

In social media posts ahead of Saturday’s protest, organizers said they were made aware of “developing security concerns from campus police.” Organizers thanked outside community supporters, but only asked students, parents, alumni, staff and speakers to attend.

Hancock, the organizer, declined to provide details Saturday of the reported safety issues.

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Hancock said she was kicked out of Western-affiliated Huron University College last year after her request for a religious exemption from the vaccination mandate was denied. She said she completed her online undergraduate degree at Athabasca University and was about to start a master of media in journalism and communications at Western this fall.

After Western announced the updated vaccination policy on Monday, Hancock said she started organizing Saturday’s protest with the help of her parents and undergraduate music student Hannah Salamon-Vegh.

As of Saturday, the “Enough is Enough Western” Instagram page run by Hancock had garnered more than 6,000 followers in five days.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on August 27, 2022.

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