St. Lawrence College asks students to sign COVID-19 liability waiver

Liability waivers remove an important incentive to ensure campus is safe, legal experts say

St. Lawrence College

Last Updated on October 6, 2020 by YGK News Staff

St. Lawrence College students are being asked to give up certain legal rights before entering residence this year. 

The college is implementing an August Summer Pilot where some students will be allowed to return to campus. They will also have to complete a Heath and Safety Awareness Training before going to campus. The process will then be used in the fall semester. The college said in May that it plans to have a mix of on campus and remote deliver in the fall semester.

However, some students are raising concerns about a waiver that they have been told to sign before moving into residence this year. The liability waiver releases SLC from all legal liability as a result of a covid-19 infection and extends to the students family members and next of kin. There will be an estimated 450 students in residence this year, with most students receiving a single occupancy room.

Liability waiver removes legal rights

The release of liability makes the student agree to give up certain legal rights, including compensation and the right to sue. Students won’t be allowed to live in residence unless the document is signed.

“I acknowledge and recognize that by residing in the Residence and engaging in residence related activities, I may come into contact with individuals, items or surfaces that may be carrying COVID-19. I understand that such exposure or infection may result in serious illness, personal injury or permanent disability, death, financial loss or property damage,” the document said.

Kevin Hung, a second year Legal Administration student was disappointed when he received the waiver. “It was a huge stumble block for me,” he said.

Hung was also surprised that he was being required to have a witness sign the document as well. “I think that’s the first time in my life that I had [to sign] a form that asks for a witness.” he said.

The letter also asks students to agree to waive responsibility of the college for its staffs negligence. “I acknowledge that these risks may be the result from the actions, omissions or negligence of others, including college employees, other residents of the residence, others visiting the residence…,” the document states.

St. Francis Xavier University has also required students to sign a waiver before students were allowed to enter on campus. Though there was significant push back, the university carried forward with the waiver.

Liability waivers remove an important incentive to ensure campus is safe, legal experts say

However, legal experts have warned against making students sign COVID-19 waivers. In a penned article to The Conversation, Professors of Law at the University of New Brunswick Jason MacLean and Hilary Young pleaded to universities and colleges to not make students choose between education and legal rights.

MacLean and Young are concerned that waivers remove incentives to maintain a safe campus. “Liability waivers remove an important incentive to ensure campus is safe. Though universities will undoubtedly continue to take all appropriate measures to protect their students, the risk of legal liability helps encourage institutions to prioritize safety measures.” Maclean and Young said.

MacLean and Young also outline concerns about the waivers legal enforceability. The Professors are concerned that there is no bargaining power for students in this situation. This raises important questions about the waivers enforceability.

Waivers like the one that St. Lawrence College has drafted may not be legally enforceable due to the Supreme Court of Canada’s recent decision in the Uber Technologies Inc. vs. Heller case. The decision states that waivers cannot be enforced if they are unfair.

Concerns about precautions taken by college

Kevin Hung remains concerned that the college has not done enough to ensure student safety. He points out that there is confusion about how to see a counsellor, on-campus, or remotely. He also isn’t sure how to receive a refund if they need to move out of residence.

Upon reviewing the St. Lawrence College website, YGK News was unable to find precautions being taken by St. Lawrence College residences amid the pandemic.