Legal experts say Quebec’s plan to extend its vaccine passport requirement to include cannabis and liquor stores is probably legally sound, but may still face challenges from groups opposed to vaccine mandates.
Quebec Government announced Thursday that proof of vaccination will be required in provincial-run liquor and cannabis stores from Jan. 18, warning that other non-essential services, such as malls and hair salons, could be next. The measures are part of an effort to pressure more Quebecers to get COVID-19 vaccines.
It has officials blamed the unvaccinated, which make up the majority of COVID-19 patients in hospitals, for burdens the province’s health system. Quebec’s passport requirements already apply to restaurants, gyms and other places where people gather for recreation.
Cheryl Milne, a constitutional lawyer and executive director of the Asper Center for Constitutional Rights at the University of Toronto, said the extension of vaccine passports would likely meet any legal challenges because unvaccinated people would still be able to access alcohol and cannabis through private dealers and delivery services.
“Obviously, they think they need to increase the pressure on people who refuse to be vaccinated,” Ms. Milne.
“It’s untested at the moment, but so far the courts, when looking at vaccine mandates or restrictions on liberties such as travel, have mostly sided with the provinces, which are trying to ensure compliance with the vaccine or public health measures to stop the spread of the virus. “
Ms. Milne said the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms gives governments a great deal of leeway to make decisions like these, especially in emergencies like pandemics.
Quebec has reported an increase in appointments for the first doses of vaccines since the announcement – a sign that the strategy is working. The province’s Ministry of Health and Social Services said 6,000 people booked time for the first dose on Thursday, and another 3,000 did so at 1 p.m. 17.30 Friday. The ministry said there were about 1,500 daily first-dose reservations before the announcement.
On Friday, the Quebec College of Physicians said in a statement that the government should use the vaccine passport system to further restrict access to a large number of shops and public places.
François Vincent, vice president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business for Quebec, criticized the idea of extending the vaccine passport requirement to include more types of retail space. He said the move would put unnecessary staffing and financial pressure on companies already struggling.
He argued that the government should reconsider the policy or at least cover business owners’ additional staff and equipment costs if they are required to enforce vaccine mandates.
“The strategy is to get people vaccinated, but you ask the private sector to do the work without giving them the tools,” he said.
Ms. Milne said jurisdictions could find themselves in more muddy waters if they begin to restrict access to more essential services, such as grocery stores, based on vaccination status.
But she said the courts could still rule in favor of those measures if the highly contagious Omicron variant of COVID-19 creates an even more serious situation in the country – or if a new, more deadly variant begins to wreak havoc.
Amir Attaran, a professor at both the Faculty of Law and the School of Epidemiology at the University of Ottawa, said there is no legal impediment to federal and provincial governments making vaccines fully mandatory for most members of the public.
Federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos pushed at a briefing in Friday’s provinces and territories to hold talks on the type of comprehensive mandatory vaccination regime, saying it is possible such a policy could become a reality in the future.
Attaran said the most likely legal challenge to a broad vaccine mandate would have to do with the idea that it violated Article 7 of the Charter, which guarantees personal autonomy through the right to life, liberty and security of person. But he said that paragraph sets boundaries for the individual rights if they affect another person’s life, liberty and security. It would be possible to argue that a strong vaccine mandate falls under this exception, he said.
“The governments of Canada have not yet lost a lawsuit” regarding vaccine mandates, he added.
“As long as they create a mechanism whereby persons who have a medical or religious reason for not vaccinating are granted reasonable exemptions, then they have shown basic justice.”
Frank Addario, a lawyer from Toronto, also said the new vaccine passport rules are legally sound, but he noted that it is crucial for any government to increase their educational messages if it sharpens the seriousness of its vaccine legislation.
He pointed out that people who hesitate with the vaccine often come from marginalized communities. Some of them, he said, are black and indigenous peoples who have reason to distrust Canadian officials.
“If I design it as a lawyer and I want to win, then we have to do a really good job of getting out there and show that we have really worked hard to reach into all these communities where it does not we have succeeded. “said Mr. Addario. He added that inflammatory rhetoric towards the unvaccinated could harm governments in court.