Quebec’s Vaccine Passport Goes Into Effect, Restricting Most Public Life for the Unvaccinated

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The Mount Royal Montreal Group 夏星湖

Image source: cbc.ca

Starting today, proof of vaccination will be as much of an everyday necessity in Quebec as a wallet or house key when leaving the house, according to a Sept. 1 report in the CBC. Participants in most public life, from drinking beer to playing badminton, will be required to show a digital or paper document called a COVID-19 vaccination passport.

Other provinces – including British Columbia, Manitoba and Ontario – are preparing to implement their own vaccination passport systems in the coming days and weeks.

In Quebec, the list of non-essential activities banned for the unvaccinated is extensive: restaurants, movie theaters, gyms, team sports and indoor pools are now banned for those who are not fully vaccinated, or have been granted rare exemptions for medical reasons.

Many public health experts have welcomed the passport as a useful tool to help control the spread of COVID-19, especially in places where crowds gather. And people are encouraged to get vaccinated, as Quebec and the rest of the country are entering the fourth wave of the pandemic.

“People want to be vaccinated, they want to have a normal life, we went through hell in the first three waves,” said Health Minister Christian Dubé in announcing the system. Observers are also curious to see how the system works in practice.

Carey Bowman, a professor at the University of Toronto who teaches bioethics and global health, says Quebec’s approach could serve as a model for the entire country. He says the system represents an “unprecedented” form of public health policy in its context. He likens it to the emphasis on collective, rather than individual rights during the Second World War.

But he fears that a system like Quebec’s risks pushing the unvaccinated to the margins of society and further inflaming tensions. He said there are people who don’t want to be vaccinated, which amounts to a form of “coercion”. Bowman added that a vaccine passport would not necessarily be enough to end the pandemic, especially given the presence of the more transmissible Delta variant of the coronavirus.

Countries and jurisdictions around the world – including the European Union, Israel and U.S. cities such as New York and San Francisco – have begun to implement vaccination vouchers to varying degrees, both for travel and everyday life.

Quebec continues to use enhanced public measures after Sept. 1, and the government claims the vaccine passport system is a way to avoid a new round of embargo measures. In Quebec, 86% of residents over the age of 12 have received at least one dose of the vaccine and 79% have received two doses. Most of these individuals have downloaded government-issued Quick Response (QR) codes to prove vaccination status.

Bowman added, “Employees in restaurants and other businesses face a daunting task. Do they have the training? Do they have the support to do that? And in some cases, we’re likely to be dealing with some very angry people in Quebec, across the country and around the world. How we capture that is an important consideration.”

Critics, however, have expressed concern about the creation of the passport and its future impact. All three opposition parties in the province’s National Assembly have called for a debate in the legislature to hear expert opinions on the science and ethics of such a system.

The provincial governor, François Legault, refused, saying he did not want to give a platform to conspiracy theorists. The new rules were created by decree and the government is still operating under a state of emergency, allowing them to quickly introduce new rules without a debate in the National Assembly.

Joël Arseneau, a Parti Québécois health critic, said, “They are now used to governing by decree, which has an impact on the level of preparedness and the level of thinking ahead about problems that might occur.”

Catherine Descoteaux, coordinator of the Quebec civil liberties organization Ligue des droits et libertés, says there is a lack of consultation that could have helped alleviate the concerns of vulnerable groups, such as seniors and undocumented workers.

The question is: Why do Canadians need to be vigilant in the fourth wave, even if they have been fully vaccinated? If the vaccine works, they won’t get infected for fear of anything. If the vaccine is ineffective, why is a “vaccine passport” used to coerce people into getting all the vaccinations?

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