First published at True North on July 14, 2021.
As debates wage in Canadian provinces about vaccine passports, Canada’s largest gym chain says it will not require its staff or members to be vaccinated.
The London, Ont.-based fitness centre was trending on Twitter Wednesday as people shared a response the company provided to a query.
“At this time, we are not planning to require Associates or Members to be vaccinated to enter our locations,” the company said. “For privacy reasons, GoodLife will not disclose information regarding any individual Associate’s vaccination status.”
GoodLife’s Ontario locations will be reopening Friday as the province enters stage 3 of its reopening plan. Locations in other provinces have reopened when local regulations have permitted.
GoodLife said in a follow-up statement it will “continue to follow all requirements and guidelines set out for fitness facilities by government, public health, and other legal authorities.”
Replies to GoodLife’s tweet were overwhelmingly negative, with numerous users claiming they intend to cancel their GoodLife memberships.
The company was lauded by some Twitter users for intending to protect member and staff medical privacy.
While COVID-19 vaccines are strongly encouraged by federal and provincial health officials, no government has made them mandatory. It is not yet clear whether mandatory vaccine policies by private businesses and institutions would even be legal, one civil liberties lawyer says.
Businesses can make decisions about what customers they want to serve, and in general this is a good thing. But turning away customers is still subject to Human Rights legislation,” Canadian Constitution Foundation litigation director Christine Van Geyn told True North. “That legislation prohibits discrimination on protected grounds, like disability, and I think there is a pretty compelling case that it would be discriminatory to turn away a person who cannot be vaccinated for something like a medical reason.”
Van Geyn said this sort of exemption can be difficult to enforce in practice, however.
“You can see the issue with masks, where medical exemptions are granted in the government mandate, but in practice many stores simply turn away unmasked customers,” she said. This happens even if the customer has a valid claim for a medical exemption from masking.
Discover Fitness, a gym in Timmins, Ont., said it would require anyone entering its facility, including staff and customers, to be vaccinated against COVID-19 unless exempt based on medical or human rights grounds.
Ontario’s Seneca College also instituted a mandatory vaccination policy for any students wishing to take in-person classes in the fall term.
Canada added just 345 COVID-19 cases and 12 deaths nationwide on Tuesday.