‘We’re not going to have a split society’: Ford says no thanks to vaccine passports

By Lucas Casaletto

The Premier chimed in on the possibility of the province implementing vaccine passports for travellers, something Doug Ford made clear he wants no part of.

With a lot of Ontario businesses demanding it and the risk that the “proof of vaccine” printout gets forged, when asked if his government will be providing any official documentation, the Premier said no.

“I’ve never believed in proof. Everyone gets their proof when they get the vaccination,” said Ford on Thursday.

“You’re right, anything can be fraudulent right down from money to certifications. No, we aren’t doing it. Simple as that.”

The Toronto Region Board of Trade called on the Ontario government this week to introduce a vaccine passport system for non-essential business activity.

The CEO of the board said it’s a personal decision to get vaccinated, but accessing major events and indoor dining requires moral responsibility.

This comes as Quebec moves to impose their own vaccine-passport system in September in areas where COVID-19 outbreaks occur, requiring people to prove they are vaccinated to enter places such as gyms and bars.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has also said the province will not be issuing vaccine passports.

“We’re going to move forward. Now, if it’s federal, and getting across the border, that is up to the federal government. We’ll see what they decide to do,” added Premier Ford.

“I’ll be talking to the Prime Minister tonight [Thursday] but the answer is no. We aren’t going to have a split society.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday that decisions around domestic vaccine passports will be up to the provinces.

“Different provinces will be doing different things,” said Trudeau, who appeared virtually at a news conference in Nova Scotia Tuesday.

Ontario’s government also won’t make immunization against COVID-19 mandatory for any industry, Premier Ford said, as businesses preparing to reopen indoor services grappled with whether to ask staff and patrons if they’d been vaccinated.

Ontario is set to move into Step 3 of its reopening plan on Friday, which will allow for indoor dining, among the easing of other restrictions.

Restrictions are being rolled back ahead of schedule thanks to positive pandemic trends and climbing vaccination rates – as of Thursday, 79 per cent of adult Ontarians had received one COVID-19 vaccine dose and 59 per cent had two shots.

“I think it’s our constitutional right to take it or not take it,” he said of vaccines against the virus.

“I’ve been out here for months, begging, pleading (for) everyone to get it, but no one should be forced to do anything.”

Restaurants Canada said vaccine passports showing proof of immunization wouldn’t be a “silver bullet” guaranteeing safety, citing concerns about the pressure that would place on workers.

“Many (operators) are concerned about young staff being put in the position of verifying personal information and confronting patrons,” the industry group in a statement.

“Throughout the pandemic, restaurants have shown their ability to operate safely and provide an alternative to private gatherings in a regulated setting.”

GoodLife Fitness said on Twitter this week that the gym chain isn’t planning to require vaccination for the staff or gym members entering any locations.

One gym in Timmins, Ont., is taking the opposite approach.

On its website, Discover Fitness said anyone entering the facility or using its services will need to have received both doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, though exceptions based on medical or other grounds will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

The gym also said the policy will go ahead “assuming Ontario’s vaccine supply allows.”

A group of Toronto strip clubs signalled this week that the businesses “would use their best efforts to ensure all staff and all dancers working in their clubs are vaccinated.”

“Admission to the Toronto Area Adult Clubs will only be granted to patrons who are vaccinated. While full vaccination is optimal, first dose patrons will be admitted at this time,” the Adult Entertainment Association of Canada’s Toronto chapter said in a statement.

One of the businesses involved noted in a later statement that enforcing the policy will be tricky.

Filmores Hotel said balancing privacy and safety concerns is a “fine line” and called verification a “dynamic process” given the various ways to access the vaccine and different shots offered around the world.

“To our patrons, if you have proof, and don’t object to producing it, please do,” the statement said.

“Remember, we are trying to do what’s best for our staff, entertainers, customers and the public at large.”

Movie theatre chain Cineplex said it would comply with a vaccine policy if one was put place by the government.

“Until then, we feel confident in our approach, noting that we have welcomed seven million movie-lovers during the pandemic, and we’ve had zero instances of transmission traced back to any of our cinemas,” spokeswoman Sarah Van Lange said in a statement.

The president of the Canadian Live Music Association said there is no industry-wide plan to ask for vaccination proof.

“Companies will be doing what they feel is best, within their understanding of local (and) provincial regulations, best practice, et cetera,” Erin Benjamin said in a statement.

Benjamin also noted that some venues will remain closed because crowd capacity limits will make it financially impractical for them to open, and added that the industry is eager for details on restrictions after Step 3.

Meanwhile, the province said that on Friday it will also loosen visitor rules in congregate settings including homes for adults with disabilities, children in care and women’s shelters.

Indoor and outdoor visits will be allowed with limits on capacity, and overnight absences will be permitted with no screening requirements. Residents who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 won’t need to complete a negative test for the virus.

Ford won’t rule out another lockdown if COVID-19 circumstances worse

Ford was also asked if 80 per cent of the population gets fully vaccinated if he can guarantee that there will be no more lockdowns in September.

On Wednesday, Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore said that while indicators remain promising in the province, he “absolutely expects a rise in COVID activity in September.”

On the subject of another lockdown, the Premier said “nothing is 100 per cent.”

Ontario administered 166,201 vaccine doses on Wednesday. Approximately 10.2 million Ontarians have at least one dose, or 69.2 per cent of the total population, and 79.6 per cent of adults 18-and-up.

With files from 680 NEWS business editor Richard Southern and The Canadian Press

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