Canada’s Dilemma with Vaccine Passports

Canada’s Dilemma with Vaccine Passports

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The conception of vaccine passports is one that is rapidly gaining notoriety as days pass and vaccination becomes the norm. 

While Prime Minister Justine Trudeau has explicitly stated that Canada will not be seeking to pursue mandatory vaccinations, Canadian business entities are now beginning to express a demand for vaccine passports. 

The notion of a vaccine passport, a means to verify the vaccination status of an individual, has been conceptualized since the early days of the pandemic and is now actualized as observed through nations around the globe. 

traveler digital vaccine passport

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce says that the nation needs to begin a discussion to decide whether and how the system should be implemented at Canadian borders.

The entity’s President and CEO, Perrin Beatty, in reference to jurisdictions around the world adopting digital immunity verification practices, said “We should have a discussion … now, rather than waiting until the rest of the world develops their systems,” reports The Star.

However, Beatty noted the inherent challenges, including ethical, technical, and otherwise, that arise with such a practice.

woman wearing face mask during pandemic

While advocates revere vaccine passports to restart travel and lift lockdowns, critics warn of the potential threats to privacy and the creation of a two-tier society – the vaccinated and non-vaccinated.

As the scheme was initially rooted for the facilitation of international travel and medical uses, it is beginning to appear to serve a broader purpose, such as getting a job or going to the theater, as evidenced by a statement from Ontario’s Health Minister.

travelers wearing face masks

Ontario has implicated constraints posed on those who opt out of vaccination, stating that travel and access to communal spaces could eventually be restricted. 

The province’s Health Minister, Christine Elliot, said residents who have received the vaccination will have a document to prove it, adding, it will be “essential”. 

“That’s going to be really important for people to have for travel purposes, perhaps for work purposes, for going to theatres or cinemas, or any other places where people will be in closer physical contact when we get through the worst of the pandemic,” Elliott said.

biker downtown Toronto

According to a privacy lawyer from Toronto, “We must put out of mind entirely the notion of making the provision of services contingent on proof of immunity.”

“The requirement to carry some form of post-vaccine certificate in order to fully participate in a re-opened society is an unacceptable violation of civil liberties. Such requirements are ripe for backsliding towards discrimination and stigma, as well as creating inequitable outcomes globally, with the harms arising far outweighing the purported benefits,” said Allan Richarz.

Privacy activists further argue that such passports jeopardise the fundamental rights of citizens through divisions of health status and discrimination while further enabling extensive health tracking. 

health passport of vaccination certification on phone at airport

Meanwhile, EU leaders affirmed the development of a ‘digital green pass’ while its governing body the European Commission is to publish the proposal by mid-March.

EU European Commission twitter
Credit: Ursula von der Leyen – President of the European Commission on Twitter

Those obtaining proof of immunity, in theory, will be able to move freely and bypass mandatory restrictions such as quarantine.

Countries across Europe are adopting the practice, with Denmark just a couple of months away from executing.

Israel was the first to launch its version of a digital passport, coined ‘Green Pass’, eligible upon receiving two doses of vaccine and allowing participants to access public facilities such as gyms, restaurants, and concerts. 

bench reserved for vaccinated people only
Credit: Luke Z Rudkowski on Facebook

The prime dilemma is centered around privacy concerns and ethical standards. Considering limitations due to medical reasons and accessibility, boundaries would need to be set to determine exemptions. Even something like digital access divides existing equalities. 

Furthermore, scientific data is fundamental in exploring the use of vaccine certificates to reopen borders and economies, as it is yet unknown whether vaccinated individuals can still transmit the virus. 

woman face mask

In regards to legal repercussions, immunity passports will carry sensitive personal information, warranting defined parameters such as data minimization and purpose limitation. 

Legal data protection and privacy terms need to be acknowledged in reference to respect for private lives, which incorporate the security of personal health information and biometric data.

On technical grounds, in order for a vaccine passport to be an internationally accepted tool, there would need to a standardized system encompassing all borders, similar to that of the original passport. 

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