Bodhi Tree Yoga Owner Colin Hall expected his decision to require proof of full vaccination for in-person classes to be polarizing.
“There’s been two very distinct reactions. From people who I know, who come to the studio and live in this neighborhood, the reaction is, ‘Oh wow, this is awesome, I’m so happy and can’t wait to see you again,’” said Hall, who plans to reopen his 13th Ave studio doors to yogis starting next week.
“From people who I’ve never seen before, I’m getting basically, ‘You’re a totalitarian. This is a privacy violation. We hope you go under. We’re going to sue you’. All this stuff.”
Hall said that while he’s still working out the finer details of exactly how he’ll ask people to prove they’re vaccinated, he’ll most likely just ask each patron to show their Saskatchewan Health Authority card with written vaccination dates.
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“The primary thing for us is we’re not like a fitness yoga place. People come to us for relaxation and to let go. It’s a place where they can drop all their worries and just be for a while. If you are unclear on whether you’re actually safe or not, you can’t actually relax, there’s no way,” Hall said.
At this point, the Saskatchewan government has not mandated policy requiring any kind of proof of vaccination. As of July 11, all remaining pandemic-related safety measures will be lifted.
Hall said that while he stands by his decision, it hasn’t been easy to endure the criticism it has received which has mostly come online.
He said he’d like to see policy mandating where proof of vaccination should be shown released by the provincial or federal governments.
“We’re being placed in a position where we need to decide how to keep our communities safe. I don’t feel like this is the job of a small business person. This should be taken care of by a government. The fact that I am in this position right now at all is actually kind of absurd. Why am I making public health decisions? It’s just silliness.”
Current recommendations from the Government of Canada recommend that only fully-vaccinated individuals gather together in close quarters without masks or distancing indoors.
But while the critics have been loud, and mostly online, one lawyer says Hall’s policy is fair game.
“I think that when we start with the premise that we have a global pandemic and we have a vaccine that can assist in curbing a global pandemic, businesses are well within their authority to mandate a requirement that their patrons, their employees be vaccinated before entering the premises,” said Whitten & Lublin Employment Lawyers Partner Ryan Watkins.
Watkins said human rights legislation, such as provincial human rights codes, most significantly dictate what a business can and can’t do when it comes to offering their products or services. He said that while such legislation protects against discrimination by things like race, religion or age, something like a lack of vaccination likely wouldn’t be protected.
“That’s not under the Code. There’s no provision for unvaccinated people to be protected,” he said.
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Last week, Saskatchewan Health Authority CEO Scott Livingstone expressed concerns that vaccine passports would violate privacy legislation when asked if the province was considering them for entry to large events like Saskatchewan Roughriders games.
“Your health card number is personal health information. Banks are not allowed to ask for your health card number and nobody else is for a form of I.D.,” Livingstone said Wednesday.
“It is personal information and so is vaccination status.”
Watkins said, though, that a business would likely not be violating any privacy legislation as long as information about vaccination is kept secure and used only for the purpose of proof.
“An establishment wouldn’t be able to then take that information and, for example, sell it to a third party that would be a violation of privacy regulations. But if it’s used solely for the purpose of identifying who is vaccinated and who is not, I think it would pass the test.”
According to the Office of the Saskatchewan Information and Privacy Commissioner, private sector businesses and other organizations engaged in commercial activities in Saskatchewan are not covered by The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIP) and The Local Authority Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (LA FOIP).
Meanwhile, Steve Seiferling, managing lawyer with Seiferling Law in Saskatoon, said he thinks legislation could be interpreted ways that would put businesses at risk for requiring proof of vaccination.
He said an argument could be made that denying someone a service because they aren’t vaccinated would be a violation of human rights legislation.
“For that to go through you’d probably have to find a religious or medical reason why someone can’t get the vaccine, and for that to go through you’d have to find a legitimate religious or medical reason they cannot get the vaccine. Then they would have to request accommodation from the service provider. They could say ‘I’ve looked and there’s no reasonable alternatives. You’re discriminating against me,’” he said.
Seiferling said such a complaint would go through Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission and Court of Queen’s Bench and would be “time consuming and costly to defend”.
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Hall acknowledged that his policy may alienate people who can’t get the vaccine for such reasons.
He said he plans to continue to offer virtual yoga classes online, but said he is open to discussing accommodation.
“If anyone has that issue, I hope that they come to me and say ‘what can we do here?’”, he said.