September 1, 2021, marks the introduction of a new vaccine passport system in Ontario by Premier Doug Ford.
Yes, you read that right.
Despite Premier Doug Ford categorically ruling out vaccine passports last month, Ford has imposed a vaccine passport in order to access non-essential businesses in addition to educational and health care facilities, which include indoor restaurants, gyms, movie theatres, and concert halls, proof of COVID-19 vaccination will be required. This “enhanced COVID-19 vaccine certificate” system will officially come into effect on September 22, 2021.
Why is a vaccine certificate required? The purported rational for implementing a mandatory vaccine passport is to combat against a fourth COVID-19 wave, potentially fueled by the Delta variant. As restaurant patios close and outdoor recreational activities become less available to due weather, most people will look to indoor activities such as dining, gyms, and theaters. The obvious purpose and timing of the passport is to boost vaccination rates as we approach the fall and winter seasons, as people will inevitably retreat indoors. Ultimately, there were two options considered, and both may still be imposed –shutting down the economy once again, instituting another detrimental closure of non-essential businesses and facilities, closing down schools, colleges, and universities, and/or introducing a vaccine certificate.
Who is eligible and how does it work? Any individual who has received both doses of an approved COVID-19 vaccine will be eligible for the vaccine certificate. The fully vaccinated Ontario resident will need their vaccination receipt with a valid government-issued photo identification such as a driver’s license or photo health card. The receipts can be printed or downloaded as PDF files to smartphones. These rules will not apply to children under 12 and people with legitimate medical exemptions. Feel free to reach out to us at Watson Labour Law if you want a legal opinion about the exemptions and applicability of the mandate.
Where is it required? Currently, this certificate will serve as a passport to enter theatres, cinemas, sporting events, banquet halls, nightclubs, concert venues, casinos, convention centres, and eating at indoor food and drink establishments. However, officials have stated that the certificate will not be required for retail locations, barbershops and salons, essential services and workplaces, banks, places of worship, patios and other outdoor spaces.
Future implications? Officials have said the system is meant to be temporary, however, how long it will depend on how the fourth wave of the pandemic unfolds in the upcoming months. Additionally, on October 22, 2021, a QR code and a verification app will be introduced to validate the vaccination status of an individual, relieving impacted businesses and facilities from having to confirm whether a patron has been vaccinated or not.
Moreover, Businesses, facilities, and individuals who refuse to comply with the new certification system can face fines under the Reopening Ontario Act, which bares the enforcement measures.