Quebec vaccine passports could pose fundamental rights risks, experts warn


While most Canadians seem to support the idea, some warn that passports could further alienate marginalized communities.

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While the majority of the population seems to support Quebec’s plan to require vaccine passports, human rights activists and privacy experts warn they could infringe personal freedoms and push communities marginalized even further underground.

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A random sample of Montrealers surveyed on Friday showed that many are in favor of restricting unvaccinated people ‘access to high-risk places like bars and gyms in the event of an outbreak, arguing that it serves the common good and will inspire those who have not yet been vaccinated to do so.

“I think it’s imperative,” said Vince De Angelis. “It’s a global disease and I think it takes a world and a community to heal it. … There is a balance between social security and individual freedoms that will be at stake. ”

Keri Dogon supports the idea because she has a friend who is not vaccinated who said she would get the vaccine if restrictions were imposed.

“She doesn’t want to be unable to live her life, go places or travel, so I think that’s a good idea. I understand why people think this takes its rights, but I am for it.

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A Léger poll conducted at the end of May showed that the majority of Canadians are too. More than 70% said people should have to show proof of vaccination to attend college classes or events with large crowds, such as concerts or sporting events, or to travel by air.

For pharmacologist Sabina Vohra-Miller, co-founder of the Toronto-based South Asian Health Network and the Vohra Miller Foundation, however, the concept of vaccine passports only serves to “further marginalize communities that already have inherent inequalities.” .

Those not yet vaccinated include migrant or undocumented workers fearful of deportation, essential service workers, people with reduced mobility and racialized groups with deep-rooted mistrust of the system. health.

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“What is going to happen when you ban people from certain activities is that you further stigmatize and disadvantage the same populations who have been very marginalized throughout the pandemic,” Vohra-Miller said. “So that will only perpetuate the inequalities. “

Instead, governments should focus on education and awareness programs to provide vaccines to these groups, she said. They should also maintain non-pharmaceutical protections against COVID-19, such as social distancing and masks, until most of the population has received their two doses, instead of the restrictions on being rapidly eased. Canada-wide, she added.

“I think the way to improve immunization is to do the hard work of education. That way, in the long run, you improve confidence in the vaccine, as opposed to that short term fix which won’t solve the problem. “

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Kerry Bowman, a bioethicist at the University of Toronto, said he doesn’t blame Quebec for launching the idea, but that its implementation right now is premature.

“I guess what Quebec is doing is giving the younger generation a helping hand to get ahead and get vaccinated. But you have to show compelling evidence that you have to. Anything that creates divisions between people is very problematic, and freedom of movement is a democratic principle that we are not talking about.

Privacy is also at risk, as the digitally issued QR code by the government could easily include an element of surveillance, he said.

Bowman’s notion of a push was corroborated by findings showing more Quebecers in the 18-29 age group started getting vaccinated this week after the government predicted passports would arrive. .

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The Quebec human rights watchdog, La Ligue des droits et libertés, has expressed concern that the government is imposing the measure without debate.

“The government of Quebec should not have the power to decide unilaterally and unclearly on an issue that could have serious consequences for rights and freedoms,” the group said Friday. “This suspension of democratic debates is permitted by the state of emergency, which leads to an intense concentration of powers in the hands of the government.”

The opposition party Quebec solidaire also criticized the government for not having convened a parliamentary committee that would allow experts to testify on the positive and negative points of vaccine passports.

The Canadian Human Rights Commission has had “informal discussions” on vaccine passports with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, the National Observer reported Thursday.

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The human rights commission said questions that could arise include whether the requirements could potentially discriminate on the basis of disability or religious belief.

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