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Ontario's economic reopening renews debate over vaccine passports

A green and white mobile version of a COVID-19 vaccine passport on top of a burgundy traditional passport
Unlike other Canadian provinces, Ontario is not requiring a vaccine passport as it reopens.

Ontario is just a day away from Stage Three of its economic reopening. That will mean indoor dining and the lifting or easing of other pandemic restrictions. It’s also fueled the debate over vaccine passports. Some provinces such as Quebec and Manitoba are going ahead with some kind of vaccine-based identification, but Ontario is not.

“We will not as a province be imposing a vaccine passport on Ontario residents,” said Sylvia Jones. Ontario’s solicitor general.

Jones said that decision is up to federal government and the provincial government will not go any further than what it has already made available.

“If individual businesses or companies or organizations are requesting proof of vaccine, than what is currently available is the piece of paper that your received post vaccination,” she said.

Critics, however, said that paper can easily be forged and doesn’t offer the same security as one from a government -imposed system.

The Toronto Region Board of Trade said a vaccine passport is just common sense and is the only way to safely reopen larger events. Some business owners have said they will demand a vaccine certificate before allowing a customer to enter.

“I think I should make it clear, it’s not just us, it’s every adult entertainment club in the city," said Kasper Cameron, owner of a Toronto strip club that will require vaccination proof at the door. "We’ve all discussed this. We all came to a consensus. And this is why we decided this is what’s best for our industry.’

Seneca College has also stated that it will require vaccination for all staff and students who plan on returning to campus this fall.

Opposition politicians said the government of Ontario Premier Doug Ford is abdicating its responsibility. Toronto Mayor John Tory agreed the onus is on the Ontario government.

“The provincial government in this case has to provide something to people to be able to show they’ve been vaccinated," said Tory. "Who else is going to provide the proof of vaccination? The province has all the records in their system.”

But civil libertarians have referred to privacy concerns. Ann Cavoukian is former privacy commissioner.

“If we establish a vaccine passport, this would create a global digital infrastructure that will retain our personal information and this will introduce surveillance like we’ve never seen before,” Cavoukian said.

“It will divide people," said University of Toronto bioethicist Kerry Bowman. "It may create a lot of negative feelings. And look, there’s gonna be an element of surveillance to this. And it limits people’s essential right to freedom of movement.”

It’s a controversy the Ontario government appears desperate to stay away from — a clash of rights — the rights of an individual’s privacy verses public health. But by leaving it up to business and corporations to decide on their own, some critics said it could result in a two-tiered society, with those getting the vaccines also getting the benefits and those who don’t, being ostracized.

WBFO’s comprehensive news coverage extends into Southern Ontario and Dan Karpenchuk is the station’s voice from the north. The award-winning reporter covers binational issues, including economic trends, the environment, tourism and transportation.