Ontario institutes vaccination certificate

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ONTARIO—After resisting calls for instituting a vaccine passport system for several months, on September 1 Premier Doug Ford announced that the province will institute a “vaccine certificate” policy that will be required to access several non-essential services in the province. The certificate is slated for implementation on September 22, two days after the federal general election.

“After in-depth discussions with our medical experts, we’ve landed on a vaccine certificate policy that is based on evidence and the best advice,” Premier Ford informed a press conference. “We have two options here. We either do this or we risk shutting down the economy, which would even be worse, having our hospital capacity maxed out and at the brink, having our kids stay at home, our college and university kids going back online. That is what we are trying to avoid.”

Those eligible for the vaccine certificate must have received two doses of an approved COVID-19 vaccine. The certificate will allow holders to visit casinos, concert venues, theatres, cinemas, sporting facilities and events, banquet halls, bingo halls, convention centres, nightclubs and to eat at indoor food and drink establishments.

However, the vaccine certificate will not be necessary for retail shopping, salons and barbershops, banks, places of worship, essential services, workplaces or patios and other outdoor spaces.

“The venues that we have chosen are responsive to the risk that we have found in Ontario,” Ontario’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore said during the media briefing. “If the risk increases in other venues, we can add and implement additional measures to protect Ontarians.” 

The new rules announced by the province will not apply to children under the age of 12 and people with medical exemptions. Early reports indicate a significant rise in applications for exemptions citing dubious evidence.

While waiting on the new digital document to be finalized and put in place, expected some time in October, the province has said people will be able to use the vaccine receipts available in PDF format on the provincial portal. For those still utilizing the red-and-white health cards, a call to the vaccine booking line in order to access a copy of their receipt.

Before entering a listed business, patrons will need to present that receipt alongside government-issued photo identification, which will be visually verified by the venues and organizations—for the time being.

The province is establishing personalized QR codes for vaccinated individuals. Once ready (sometime around October 22), people will be able to either print or store that QR code on their phone—but it will still be necessary to produce government-issued photo ID. 

The province is developing an app that businesses will use to scan and verify the contents of the QR code, which will also be ready in October. The app will show businesses a checkmark or an ‘X’ to confirm vaccination status. 

Proof of a negative COVID-19 test or a recent infection will not stand in for a vaccine certificate and there will be a limited time exception for funerals and weddings that take place between September 22 and October 12. In that case, a negative test taken within 48 hours will enable a person to enter even if not fully vaccinated.

Although recent polls indicate that acceptance of vaccine passports reaches north of 80 percent across Canada, a small but vocal group of individuals are pushing back citing government overreach and the erosion of rights and freedoms have come under increasing fire in online forums, vilified and derided for their concerns.

Steve Arthurs, an active community volunteer in Island sports communities, has been vocal about his opposition to the concept of vaccine passports and says he has come under extreme ridicule for daring to voice his concerns and beliefs.

“I am not anti-vaccine,” Mr. Arthurs declares at the start of The Expositor interview. “It’s all about personal choice.” Mr. Arthurs pointed to the vaccine passports and vaccination requirements for employment in certain sectors as “strong arming of this government” and said he, and those expressing like sentiments, have been the subject of bullying and harassment due to their opposition. 

“It’s not about whether you get the vaccine or not,” he said. “It’s all about the choice over your charter of rights and your own body.” Mr. Arthurs backed his position up by quoting the first principle of the Nuremburg Charter: “The voluntary consent of the human subject is absolutely essential. This means that the person involved should have legal capacity to give consent; should be so situated as to be able to exercise free power of choice, without the intervention of any element of force, fraud, deceit, duress, over-reaching, or other ulterior form of constraint or coercion; and should have sufficient knowledge and comprehension of the elements of the subject matter involved as to enable him to make an understanding and enlightened decision. This latter element requires that before the acceptance of an affirmative decision by the experimental subject there should be made known to him the nature, duration, and purpose of the experiment; the method and means by which it is to be conducted; all inconveniences and hazards reasonable to be expected; and the effects upon his health or person which may possibly come from his participation in the experiment. The duty and responsibility for ascertaining the quality of the consent rests upon each individual who initiates, directs or engages in the experiment. It is a personal duty and responsibility which may not be delegated to another with impunity.”

“Whatever happened to no discrimination?” he asked. “In schools they talk about bullying and enforce no discrimination against anybody—but that is all we get, that’s all we see (when he expresses his point of view). With the bullying, I am going to say ‘us,’ because it isn’t just me. We get called ‘idiots,’ people say we are killing them, they call us ‘second class citizens’.” 

That last bit really has Mr. Arthurs steamed.

“In my opinion, a second class citizen is a criminal,” he said, “someone who has broken the law and hurt someone intentionally.” He said that he is being labeled as a second class citizen just for “fighting for our cultural rights—and for some of us our religious rights as well.”

Mr. Arthurs said that his beliefs are “if you don’t go out and hurt people, do bad things, and you live your life as a good person, I don’t feel I should be discriminated against for this.”

Mr. Arthurs emphasizes that he is not among those who do not believe the COVID-19 virus is real. “It’s real,” he said. “I wear a mask, I disinfect, I take precautions to make sure I don’t spread the virus. I don’t give anyone a hard time about taking the vaccine, that’s their choice, it’s their body. But I don’t think I should be discriminated against because I didn’t take an experimental drug.”

He points to the short turnaround time in the development of the various vaccines and compares that to the time it took to produce safe vaccines against other deadly diseases. That disparity does not instill confidence in him.

Mr. Arthurs notes that paedophiles, those who sexually abuse children, do not have to carry a paper to be out and about in the world. “Nobody knows who they are,” he said. “But we need a paper because we didn’t take an experimental drug?”

As for the vaccine passport, Mr. Arthurs sees that move as being a slippery slope. “The more rights you give up as a society, the more will be taken away from you,” he said, “until the only opinion we have left is what the government gives us.”

With the ongoing debate on booster shots, Mr. Arthurs asks, “where will it all end?” He cites a credible source as proposing that booster shots will be needed in the months and years ahead. “Eight? Ten? Twelve? When you finally get to the point where you say ‘this is enough’ will your ‘passport’ no longer be any good? People call us ‘conspiracy theorists,’ but it is a simple question of where does it all end?”

The debate has taken a deep personal toll on Mr. Arthurs, who said he is finding it stressful to even go out in public these days because of the abuse and derision he comes under.

“People are being threatened if they don’t get this they will lose their jobs,” he said. The debate has even opened rifts within his own family, something he said is also taking a huge toll on his mental state.

As of September 22, Ontarians will need to be fully vaccinated (two doses plus 14 days) and provide their proof of vaccination along with photo ID to access certain public settings and facilities. This approach focuses on higher-risk indoor public settings where face coverings cannot always be worn and includes: restaurants and bars (excluding outdoor patios, as well as delivery and takeout); nightclubs (including outdoor areas of the establishment); meeting and event spaces, such as banquet halls and conference/convention centres; facilities used for sports and fitness activities and personal fitness training, such as gyms, fitness and recreational facilities with the exception of youth recreational sport; sporting events; casinos, bingo halls and gaming establishments; concerts, music festivals, theatres and cinemas; strip clubs, bathhouses and sex clubs; and racing venues (e.g., horse racing).

The mandatory requirements outlined by the province would not apply to outdoor settings with the exception of outdoor nightclub spaces or to settings where people receive medical care, food from grocery stores, medical supplies and similar products and services.