Dear members of the McGill community,
We have heard from people within our community who are concerned that the University has not yet moved to requiring some form of vaccine mandate. After listening to and thinking about these concerns, I wanted to respond and provide the senior administration’s reasoning behind the decisions we are making.
It is clear that vaccination is the best way to protect you and those close to you, and a high rate of vaccination is the best way to protect our society and prevent new variants from developing. These are scientific facts.
The members of the McGill community have strong, and sometimes polarized, opinions about how best to achieve the goal of a high rate of vaccination. The issue is critically important, as everyone is justifiably concerned about the health and safety of themselves and those close to them.
To address this, some peer institutions in other jurisdictions have recently announced some form of vaccine mandate. We encourage you to look beyond the headlines into the details of these announcements. These mandates have various forms: for example, requiring people to attest to their vaccination status without requiring proof of vaccination, or requiring proof of vaccination or testing several times a week. To our knowledge, no plan announced in Canada includes a means to prevent unvaccinated people from coming on campus.
Assessing the overall situation, including the risk of infection, requires setting McGill’s policies within its specific context, including provincial policy. Crucially, Quebec is implementing a vaccine passport as of September 1, which provides considerable incentives to get vaccinated and to register vaccinations received outside Quebec. Members of the McGill community thus have an extra incentive to get vaccinated, in order to return to a more normal way of living, including going to restaurants, cafés, bars and gyms. This incentive does not yet exist in most other Canadian jurisdictions. We are also examining the circumstances under which the vaccine passport could be used to control access to certain activities and spaces on our campuses, consistent with general provincial directives on its use.
Vaccination is a medical procedure. Under Quebec law people have the right to refuse to undergo a recommended medical procedure, unless otherwise provided for in law. In the absence of specific legal authorization, mandatory vaccination can be justified legally only if other reasonable means are insufficiently effective to ensure the health and safety of the community. While views may vary, we do not think that we meet that test, given the current situation in Quebec.
We are confident in the health and safety measures we have put in place at the University, and they have proven effective. McGill’s plan for the Fall involves several layers of protection, including exclusion of symptomatic individuals, procedural mask requirements, distancing in non-classroom environments, contact tracing, optimizing ventilation and other means. Accommodations are available for vulnerable students and employees with appropriate medical documentation.
If the epidemiological situation changes, then our safety measures will change appropriately, aligned with directives from the Quebec government, as they have done in the past.
We believe that education and incentives will be effective in the long run to get as many people as possible vaccinated. The University is running an internal campaign to promote vaccination to members of our community. We are working with the government to ensure international students who have not been fully vaccinated have the option of signing up for a vaccine appointment upon arrival in Montreal. International students are also able to register vaccinations received outside the province before leaving the airport. We will be holding a walk-in clinic on the downtown campus at the start of the term (date to be confirmed). We are also exploring other options to reduce vaccine hesitancy and encourage high rates of vaccination.
We are concerned about everyone’s health and safety, too, including that of ourselves and our families. Members of the Emergency Operations Centre, which is composed of senior academic and administrative leadership, have been working hard to keep everyone safe and prevent transmission on campus, as have many other employees across McGill. The EOC will continue to assess the situation. We appreciate members of the community respectfully engaging on issues relevant to the continued health of our McGill family.
Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic)