As a steadily rising number of fully vaccinated Canadians emerge from hiding to test the gradual return to pre-pandemic normalcy, a conundrum looms: what to do about those who, for whatever reason, haven’t had a shot?
Striking the proper balance between public health and personal freedom, and figuring out whether one must be relinquished to protect the other, will become increasingly key as the country reopens.
For a growing number of jurisdictions and institutions, the solution is a vaccine passport, a document the bearer can show as proof of immunization against the coronavirus in order to be granted certain freedoms. On the flip side, those who can’t produce such evidence because they couldn’t or wouldn’t get vaccinated could be denied access to businesses, flights and university dorms, to name just a few potential inconveniences.
Last month, Manitoba announced it would provide immunization cards to residents who have been fully vaccinated, allowing them to travel domestically without being required to self-isolate when they return. In May, Western University in London announced it would require students living in residence to show proof of immunization.
Also in May, Health Minister Patty Hajdu told CBC News that her government was talking with its G7 allies about implementing a vaccine passport that would allow immunized Canadians to resume international travel while Quebec began issuing downloadable QR codes as digital proof of vaccination, though it wasn’t immediately clear how they’d be used.
Ethicists, privacy advocates and civil liberties groups have warned that such requirements threaten to create a new two-tier society, benefiting those who have been vaccinated and ostracizing those who haven’t.
As of June 25, the latest update available from the federal government, three-quarters of Canadians 12 and over had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 22 per cent were fully vaccinated.
CBC News spoke with experts in three fields to further explore the potential pitfalls of vaccine passports.
A question of fairness
For Arthur Schafer, founding director of the Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, vaccine passports or “immunity certificates” are inevitable, but, he says, the federal government “badly dropped the ball” by failing to provide clear guidance to provinces and public health officials about how to manage them.
“It should have created an online app and plastic card, it should have created a model or guide for the provinces to follow, and it should have explained and justified why it was doing this, because society is not going to wait another six months,” said Schafer, who was an expert adviser to a federal panel on the subject.
“If we’re urging people to be vaccinated and we’re promising them that the vaccines are safe and effective, it just makes no sense then to say, ‘You’ll have to obey the same regulations as those who haven’t been vaccinated.'”
We’re becoming a hodge-podge society. We’d be much better off if we thought this through and created a policy that protected fundamental values.– Arthur Schafer, University of Manitoba
Instead, Schafer points out, it will happen in some jurisdictions, but not in others. In the latter, private entities such as cinemas and hotels could be left to devise their own policies.
“We’re becoming a hodge-podge society,” he said. “We’d be much better off if we thought this through and created a policy that protected fundamental values — privacy, confidentiality, liberty and public health — and balanced those in a way that was open, transparent and rationally defensible, and we haven’t done that.”
WATCH | Canadians debate civil liberty implications of vaccine passports:
Schafer says a fair system will ensure reasonable accommodation for those who haven’t been immunized, and he points out those people aren’t all Facebook-fuelled anti-vaxxers. Some are unsure because they’re taking immunosuppressant drugs, for example, while others have legitimate concerns about the safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines or justifiable fears borne from previous negative interactions with the health-care system.
“We should try to accommodate people who have objections, conscientious or scientific or even religious, where we can do so without compromising public safety and without incurring a disproportionate cost to society,” he said.
If such accommodation isn’t made, Schafer predicts, there could be a backlash.
“If an alternative route is available, if it’s effective and if the employer or the service provider doesn’t make it available, then I think a challenge under human rights legislation would succeed,” he said.
A question of privacy
In May, Canada’s federal, provincial and territorial privacy commissioners issued a joint statement warning that while vaccine passports “may offer substantial public benefit, it is an encroachment on civil liberties that should be taken only after careful consideration.”
According to Ontario’s former privacy commissioner, Ann Cavoukian, now executive director of the Global Privacy and Security by Design Centre, Canadians shouldn’t be expected to surrender their personal privacy for the sake of public health.
“You don’t throw out privacy because there’s a health-related concern now,” Cavoukian said. “It can never be one versus the other.”
Cavoukian is concerned about what could happen to people’s private health data under a vaccine passport system, and she worries that once it’s surrendered, it will already be too late.
What are you going to do, are you going to cast those people aside for the public good? Please.– Anne Cavoukian, Global Privacy and Security by Design Centre
“This data will be retained in association with your geolocation all around the world,” she said. “If you’re travelling, going to a football game or whatever, this information will be tracked, and the potential for surveillance is enormous.”
In many countries, immunization cards have long been commonplace for access to certain health services, but they’re only now being required to travel between countries or enter restaurants, for example.
Like Schafer, Cavoukian is also concerned such a system will alienate a minority of Canadians, many of whom have sound reasons not to get immunized — reasons they shouldn’t be required to divulge.
“What are you going to do, are you going to cast those people aside for the public good? Please,” she said. “I’m not saying this is easy, but you can’t just say, ‘Well, it’s for the public good, so forget about privacy.'”
At least one province agrees: On Wednesday, Saskatchewan announced it would not require proof of vaccination from residents looking to return to work or attend events, with one official pointing out that doing so would be a clear violation of the province’s Health Information Protection Act.
Cavoukian says people will relax once the majority of eligible Canadians is fully vaccinated. When that happens, singling out those who aren’t won’t seem nearly as important.
“There’s so much fear right now, and fear pushes people in the direction of, well, I guess we’ve gotta do this, and not examining it carefully.”
A question of freedom
Cara Zwibel, director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association’s fundamental freedoms program, says it all comes down to choice.
“The choice to be vaccinated should be … a true individual choice, and there comes a point where if we premise access to certain rights or access to full participation in society on people being vaccinated, that becomes a form of coercion where you’re not really being vaccinated because you choose to. You’re being vaccinated because you feel you have no choice,” Zwibel said.
The idea that you should have to show your proof of vaccination everywhere you go, I think that it fundamentally changes the kind of society that we are.– Cara Zwibel, Canadian Civil Liberties Association
“The idea that you should have to show your proof of vaccination everywhere you go, I think that it fundamentally changes the kind of society that we are.”
But what about the person sitting next to you at work, school or on the bus? Don’t they have a right to exist in a safe environment?
“I think we need to get away from this idea that we need a space where there’s no COVID,” Zwibel said. “It really should be about mitigating that risk as much as we can and avoiding a situation where our hospitals are overwhelmed, but unfortunately, I think COVID is just another risk now that we have to incorporate into our daily lives.”
WATCH | ArriveCan app expands to include vaccination details:
Like Cavoukian, Zwibel has serious concerns about sharing private health information, and she points out that while we might willingly hand our immunization records over to certain institutions, they’re statutorily limited in what they can do with that information.
“If we start to think about disclosing your vaccination status to the maître d’ at the restaurant and the person who takes your tickets at the cinema and the person who is checking at the door at the grocery store, that’s a whole other level of really surveillance of the population, and it’s significant,” she said. “I think before we go down that road, we have to think about what it is we’re trying to accomplish by doing this.”
Prime Minister Trudeau pledges more aid and loans to Ukraine at G7 summit
SCHLOSS ELMAU, GERMANY — Canada is looking at developing new infrastructure to help other countries transition away from Russian oil and coal, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday at the conclusion of the G7 summit in Germany focused on the conflict in Ukraine.
In their final communique for the meeting, the G7 leaders said they are working to make sure Russia does not exploit its position as an energy producer to profit from its aggression at the expense of vulnerable countries.
The conflict has squeezed energy markets in Europe and the security of the supply around the world.
Over the course of the three-day summit, the leaders agreed to consider a cap on the price of crude oil and petroleum from Russia, and even a comprehensive ban on Russian oil and coal.
“Canada obviously as an oil and gas producer is ensuring that in the short term we’re doing what we can to alleviate pressures,” Trudeau said at a news conference at the close of the summit.
“We’re also looking medium term at expanding some infrastructure, but in a way that hits that medium -term and -long-term goal of accelerating transition, not just off Russian oil and gas, but off of all our dependence on fossil fuels.”
The leaders agreed compromising on climate and biodiversity goals was not on the table to address the growing energy crisis.
The idea to ban Russian oil is still only in discussions, and would need to be implemented careful to mitigate the potential fallout for vulnerable countries that rely on Russia for power.
Trudeau said Canada remains determined to support Ukraine as it defends its sovereignty and territorial integrity.
“It’s important that the world doesn’t lose its attention and focus over what’s happening in Ukraine, we must and we will remain committed until Ukraine and democracy prevail,” Trudeau told a news conference.
He announced more money for Ukraine on Tuesday, including a $200-million loan through the International Monetary Fund.
In addition to the loan to the Ukrainian government, Canada is giving $75 million in humanitarian assistance to help with operations in Ukraine and in the neighbouring countries. The aid will include the provision of in-kind food assistance, emergency cash and vouchers, protection, shelter and health services.
Earlier in the summit, Trudeau announced $52 million in agricultural aid including mobile grain storage equipment to increase grain storage capacity as well as help to provide speedy diagnostic testing and monitoring of animal diseases to allow for export certification.
“Our farmers typically face big challenges and have been proven to be inventive and creative. So we’ll bring this expertise to Ukraine to help as much as we can,” Trudeau said.
Canada is also contributing $15 million to help fund demining efforts and $9.7 million for those tracking human rights violations in Ukraine.
The leaders have also agreed to intensify their efforts to mitigate rising food prices and scarcity, which have been exacerbated as a result of Russia’s war in Ukraine.
They plan to expand their resettlement programs to accommodate the millions of Ukrainian refugees who have been displaced by the conflict.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 28, 2022.
Laura Osman, The Canadian Press
More than half of Canadians oppose Oath of Allegiance to the Queen
OTTAWA — Most people in Canada do not think people should have to swear an Oath of Allegiance to the Queen, according to a poll ahead of Canada Day.
A Leger poll for the Association of Canadian Studies found that 56 per cent of respondents did not agree with swearing allegiance to the Queen.
New Canadians have to swear an oath to the monarchy at citizenship ceremonies including a pledge to “be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Canada, her heirs and successors.”
Jack Jedwab, president of the Association for Canadian Studies, said most people born in Canada were probably unaware that new Canadians had to swear an oath to be faithful to the Royal Family.
“If you ask Canadians about their identity, few would mention the monarchy,” he said.
The poll of 2,118 people earlier this month cannot be assigned a margin of error because online panels are not considered truly random samples.
While 58 per cent of those who responded are positively disposed toward the Queen, with only 28 per cent negatively disposed, Canadians are evenly divided — 40 per cent positively and 40 per cent negatively — in their view of the monarchy overall.
The poll asked whether, “as a Canadian, we should all agree to be faithful and bear true allegiance” to the Queen and her heirs.
Those who are very favourable toward the monarchy were more likely to approve of pledging allegiance.
Sixty per cent of men and 52 per cent of women who did the survey answered no. Opposition was stronger among Canadians aged 18-34 than those over the age of 55.
Almost three-quarters of people living in Quebec opposed the oath, compared to only 47 per cent in Alberta.
A large proportion of those polled — including 20 per cent of women — said they had no view or did not want to answer.
Canada is a constitutional monarchy, with the Queen as the head of state. She is represented federally by Gov. Gen. Mary Simon, and at a provincial level by lieutenant-governors.
Any change to the position of the Queen or her representatives in Canada would need the unanimous consent of the House of Commons, the Senate and provincial legislatures.
Taking an oath of citizenship is the final step in becoming a Canadian citizen. Ceremonies take place across the country, with special ceremonies on Canada Day.
New Canadians must also promise to faithfully observe the laws of Canada.
Earlier this month, the Queen celebrated her platinum jubilee with celebrations in Canada, the U.K. and across the Commonwealth. She ascended the throne at age 27 in 1952 and is England’s longest-serving monarch.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 28, 2022.
Marie Woolf, The Canadian Press
How to play online casinos with minimal investment
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Busting the myths
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