On April 5th, the Information and Privacy Commissioner/Ontario affirmed a University of Guelph requirement that students in residence for the 2021/2022 academic year be fully vaccinated.
The IPC has jurisdiction to consider whether a public body’s collection of personal information is “necessary” to a lawfully authorized activity based on the Freedom of Information and Protection of Personal Privacy Act. The necessity test has been endorsed by the Court of Appeal for Ontario as strict. Where personal information would merely be helpful to the activity, it is not “necessary” within the meaning of FIPPA. Similarly, where the purpose can be accomplished another way, a public body is obliged to chose the other route.
The IPC’s affirmation of the University’s policy (and its collection of personal information) rested heavily on a letter the University had received from the Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Health Unit in July 2021. It said:
I am writing to recommend in the strongest possible terms that the University of Guelph require a full (two-dose) course of COVID-19 vaccines for all students living in residence during the 2021-22 school year. Additionally, the University should continue to recommend strongly that all other students, faculty and staff receive both doses of the vaccine.
Students beginning or returning to their studies this fall are looking forward to a safe and relational post-secondary experience. Adding this significant layer of protection will help create a more normal fall on campus. Strong vaccination rates across the University are an important part of student physical and mental well-being, and should contribute peace of mind to all Gryphons.
The IPC affirmation is significant not only because it supports a vaccine mandate based on the strict FIPPA necessity standard, but also because of its adoption of this letter and its reasoning. While mandates must certainly be based on science that establishes that vaccination reduces the risk of exposure, the privacy commissioners, labour arbitrators and judges who will continue to be called upon to evaluate mandates must recognize that they are also based on a need for stability and mental well-being.
We thought we were though the pandemic, and are now in Wave Six. Will there be a Wave Seven? And although the province is trying to give us the stability we all crave by committing to laissez faire policy, why should our public bodies be precluded from adopting stable, medium-term policy that prioritizes safety?