An expert is calling for empathy as she worries about division over public health orders.

The topic of persecution is a hot one as conversations continue to heat up around COVID-19 vaccine passports and exemptions. These conversations often end in frustration regardless of stance. 

"We should really be trying to approach one another with empathy and understanding," Karen Sharma, Acting Executive Director of the Manitoba Human Rights Commission, says.

karen sharmaKaren Sharma is concerned about division occurring with the COVID-19 vaccine mandates. (Manitoba Human Rights Commission/Facebook)

"It's something that we struggle with at the Commission quite a bit because we're seeing division and a lot of passionate feelings on all sides of this particular issue. And we're really nervous about the potential for entrenched divisions to rise or take hold within our communities."

Many large demonstrations and rallies have been happening in Canada against provincial mandates regarding mask use and vaccinations. 

dA September rally in Manitoba was one of many before the start fo the school year.

Recently they have been having serious discussions about what would and would not be considered persecution against protected groups regarding the COVID-19 vaccine and mandates around it.

"We really do advocate, given that mandatory vaccination requirements can arise in discrimination for those communities, that we be cautious about mandatory vaccination policy. Only used them where all other less intrusive methods have been considered but would prove inadequate."

Sharma says there is a difference between personal choice and have a protected characteristic such as race or religion.


Listen to the conversation here


On Wednesday, Dr. Joss Reimer, the medical lead in Manitoba's COVID-19 vaccine task force announced official vaccine exemptions for people with specific medical conditions. Reimer and Sharma cannot say if Manitobans could expect future religious exemptions to the COVID-19 vaccine as it is under the direction of those creating the Public Health Orders.

Some in Canada and the United States are calling for religious exemptions as the list of employers requiring a COVID-19 vaccine is growing.  When it comes to workplaces, Sharma says reasonable accommodations must be given.

"Those individuals would be entitled to reasonable accommodation to the point of what we call undue hardship - which means that if it would present excessive costs or excessive safety risks it may not be possible to provide accommodation but employers, service providers, etcetera, have to explore accommodations up until that point," Sharma says.

This could include the employee working from home or providing additional PPE. Sharma says this needs to be done in a way that balances someone's personal rights with caring for everyone's safety.

"We really encourage employers and service providers to look at all the options for accommodation before just out and out you know saying that they have to end employment or not be able to return somebody to the workplace, for example."

Things get trickier outside of work or home. In instances where Public Health has indicated events or places as being higher risk, Sharma says the commission looks at what is reasonable.

"Under the human rights code there still is an obligation to think about reasonable accommodations but we do have to balance the fact that this law and people, employers, and service providers still have to act in accordance with other laws when they are implementing the human rights code."

This includes the Public Health Orders which may require vaccination proof to access settings that Public Health deems as a sufficient risk. If this is the case, Sharma implores people to use accommodations like takeout or virtual programming.

Sharma says there are many sides to this conversation, but overall, each side needs to be respectful of the other especially considered there is a large variety of reasons why someone may not wish to get the COVID-19 vaccine.