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COVID-19: Vaccine passports come with risks, warns B.C. Ombudsperson

Last Updated May 26, 2021 at 11:21 am PDT

Syringes containing the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine sit in a tray in a vaccination room at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, Calif., Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Summary

B.C.'s top doctor has said there are no plans to require vaccination passports for access to public services

Ombudspersons across Canada have put together guidelines for governments to consider around vaccine passports

Survey finds majority of Canadians support COVID-19 vaccine passport for things like travel, events with big crowds

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – B.C.’s top doctor has said she has no plans to require documentation to allow you to travel within the province or go into stores. But it seems most Canadians support the idea of requiring vaccination passports for activities like air travel.

“This virus has shown us that there are inequities in our society that have been exacerbated by this pandemic, and there is no way that we will recommend inequities be increased our use of things like vaccine passports for services, for public access here in British Columbia,” Dr. Bonnie Henry said Tuesday, adding she does believe vaccination passports are a good idea for international travel.

A majority of Canadians polled by Leger say they support requiring people to show proof of vaccination before flying, attending events with large crowds, and even going to your workplace or a restaurant.

However, B.C. Ombudsperson Jay Chalke says if vaccination passports are used, they need to be used fairly. That means, as Henry noted, they can’t limit access to provincial or local public services like health, education, and city or ministerial departments.

“Although we’re not seeing people having to provide vaccination status yet when receiving public services, we know given the highly dynamic nature of this pandemic that this kind of verification could potentially come into play in a variety of ways,” said Chalke.

Ombudspersons across Canada have put out some guidelines for governments, insisting rules around the use of vaccination passports must be clear and be publicly available, as well as evidence-based and subject to appeal.

They also say governments must accommodate anyone who has not been vaccinated against COVID-19, offering alternative options for services, and that decisions to restrict access based on whether a person has been vaccinated or not needs to “be done in a transparent, procedurally fair manner and be clearly communicated to the affected person in an accessible way.”

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“As Ombudsperson it is my role to promote fair treatment by government,” Chalke said, adding he and his counterparts across Canada warn vaccine passports or similar systems “can result in outcomes that are unreasonable, unfair and unjust.”

Chalke notes measures like vaccine passports can also create a lot of confusion and concern, and even result in some people being treated unequally.

He adds the guidance being released is mean to serve as “proactive reminders that may help prevent unfairness from occurring if this is something governments do ultimately decide to apply to their public services.”