Feds working on vaccine passport for Canadians to travel internationally

The federal government couldn't give a firm date or specific details on its vaccine passport program, but says it's eyeing early fall for rollout.

By Lucas Casaletto

Federal ministers announced Wednesday that they are actively working with provinces and territories on proof-of-vaccination credentials to make it safe for international travel.

Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, says the vaccine documents will be available to permanent and temporary Canadian residents fully protected against the virus.

“As the world returns to travel, everyone is going to move at their own pace,” says Mendicino.

The minister adds that the plan is based on advice from public health officials, with priority placed on the safety and security of all Canadians.

Travellers will be able to submit their proof of vaccination in ArriveCAN (mobile app or Canada.ca/ArriveCAN) when coming back to Canada. While the focus is on digital proof of immunization, Mendicino says the feds will ensure that the documents are accessible for all Canadians.

The document, or “passport,” will include the holder’s vaccination history, including the type of vaccines they received, the date and precise location.

As of Wednesday, over 71 per cent of Canadians have received at least one dose, and 62 per cent are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and its variants.

“Thanks to the incredible progress that Canadians have made, our country is reopening – gradually, cautiously and guided by public health. This means that many Canadians are contemplating doing something they haven’t done in over a year and a half: travelling,” Mendicino added.

“Our work with the provinces and territories to provide a consistent proof of vaccination is a key step forward in ensuring Canadians will have the documents they need once it is safe to travel again.”

The implementation of vaccine passports has been a contentious and rocky topic for provinces of late.

While Québec’s government recently announced its intention to make vaccine passports mandatory, Ontario’s Premier has maintained a firm stance that his government will do no such thing.

Québec’s health minister Christian Dubé announced Tuesday that as of September 1, unvaccinated residents would be refused access to non-essential businesses such as bars, restaurants and gyms. Quebec joins Manitoba and Prince Edward Island as the third province in Canada to use a vaccine passport or certificate of some kind.

“Around the world, vaccination rates are increasing, and countries are reopening their borders. We will continue our work with provinces, territories and Indigenous partners to provide Canadians with a secure and reliable proof of vaccination, which could be required for international travel,” Health Minister Patty Hajdu says.

“I encourage all Canadians to get vaccinated as soon as they are able to.”

Health experts and business groups across the country have stressed that a vaccine certificate system would be a way to avoid another lockdown and accelerate an economic reopening.

Israel, France and New York, among other places, have announced or implemented COVID-19 restrictions for businesses based on vaccination status.

Meanwhile, the Trudeau government expressed recent optimism that Canadians who received the AstraZeneca vaccine will be allowed into the United States.

Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc says Canada has worked with international researchers to get the best possible advice on immunization.

Some of the businesses and attractions in the U.S. demanding vaccine passports are refusing to recognize the AstraZeneca shot.

More than 260,000 Canadians have received the AstraZeneca shot to date.

As of August 9, fully vaccinated citizens and permanent residents from the U.S. can enter the country. In July, the feds announced that incoming, fully vaccinated international travellers could cross the border into Canada starting September 7.

Fully vaccinated, incoming travellers must be immunized with a Health Canada-approved vaccine at least 14 days before arriving in the country. Proof of vaccination has to be uploaded to the “ArriveCAN” app, and all travellers still have to provide a quarantine plan just in case.

Unvaccinated individuals are forbidden from entering Canada through non-essential trips.

Under the Quarantine Act, a person that submits false information on vaccination status could be liable to a fine of up to $750,000 or six months imprisonment or both, or prosecution under the Criminal Code (forgery).

The U.S. won’t open its land border to Canadians for non-essential travel until August 21 at the earliest and has hinted at a possible delay due to concerns of the Delta variant.

Since the start of the pandemic, a constantly changing and confusing web of travel restrictions has separated loved ones around the world. For people whose lives cross international borders and immigrants who leave their homes behind to move to a new country, not knowing when they can see their relatives again compounds the pain of separation.

The U.S. still bars travellers from Brazil, China, India, Iran, South Africa, and much of Europe. The European Union recommended allowing U.S. travellers in June, although individual European countries make their own rules.

Britain opened its borders to fully vaccinated travellers from the U.S. and the European Union last week.

The U.S. airline lobby is pushing the U.S. government to reopen travel with “low-risk countries,” and European officials have also pressed their case.

But a White House official said on July 26 that the U.S. will keep existing international travel restrictions in place for now because of surging infection rates due to the Delta variant.

With files from 680 NEWS Parliament Hill reporter Cormac Mac Sweeney, The Canadian Press and The Associated Press

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