Ombudsman urges vaccine passport caution
BC’s Ombudsperson cautions against COVID-19 vaccination passports being used to unfairly limit provincial and local public services .
As BC explores the development of a COVID-19 vaccination certification system in conjunction with other jurisdictions in Canada, provincial Ombudsperson Jay Chalke is expressing concern about provincial or local public services being limited based on vaccination status, emphasizing that fairness must be at the centre of any scheme that is put into place.
In a national guidance document released today, Canadian Ombudsman including Chalke, focus on how vaccination certification systems could impact the receipt of public services under the Ombudsperson’s jurisdiction such as municipal, health, education and provincial government ministry services. The guidance document focuses on public services within Canada, not international travel which is a federal responsibility.
“Although we’re not seeing people having to provide vaccination status yet when receiving public services, we know given the highly dynamic nature of this pandemic that this kind of verification could potentially come into play in a variety of ways,” said Chalke. “As Ombudsperson it is my role to promote fair treatment by government. That is why my colleagues across Canada and I are reminding provincial and local government bodies that these systems can result in outcomes that are unreasonable, unfair and unjust.”
The guidance document created by the Canadian Council of Parliamentary Ombudsman calls on provincial and territorial governments to consider key fairness principles when contemplating COVID-19 vaccination certification approaches including:
- Before implementation, clear direction for the use of vaccination certification must be given by government via legislation or publicly available policy.
- Any vaccine certification program must be evidence-informed and all decisions must be subject to review and appeal processes.
- Accommodations must be made for those who have not received the vaccine, including alternative service delivery options.
- Decisions to restrict access to a service based on a person’s vaccination status must be done in a transparent, procedurally fair manner and be clearly communicated to the affected person in an accessible way.
“New measures such as vaccine passports run the risk of creating a lot of confusion, concern and unequal treatment all of which can result in complaints to my office,” said Chalke. “This caution and guidance being issued today by Ombuds across Canada serve as proactive reminders that may help prevent unfairness from occurring if this is something governments do ultimately decide to apply to their public services.”
As discussions of “vaccine passports” circulate in public policy circles, new data from the non-profit Angus Reid Institute finds Canadians largely accepting of the concept in various forms.
More than three-quarters say that they would support mandatory vaccination proof for both travel to the United States (76 per cent) and for international travel outside Canada’s southern border (79 per cent). In each case one-in-five disagree.