While some countries around the world are in the advanced states of rolling out a vaccine passport for their citizens, experts warn Canada is falling dangerously behind.
Like it or not, experts say, Canada will be pressured into coming up with a system to verify that Canadian travellers have gotten their COVID-19 shots. But with the federal government’s procrastination on developing a nation-wide system and the country’s fragmented healthcare system, the road ahead is fraught with controversy and quagmires.
“There’s no engagement at this moment led by the government in terms of trying to find the best way to approach this issue,” Paul-Émile Cloutier, president and CEO of HealthCareCAN, a national association for health organizations and hospitals, told Maclean’s.
“This is really no longer theoretical. We have to start thinking through the design and the application of whatever tool, if it’s a passport, if it’s testing that we have at the airport. That has to be done now.”
For vaccine passports to work, there need to be national standards for what is considered “authentic proof” of a person’s vaccination record, says Dr. Kumanan Wilson, CEO of CANImmunize. He says provinces will need to be onboard with any system.
No Cross-Border Consensus
In addition, any vaccine passport system also has to work for crossing Canada’s border with the United States – in both directions.
That challenge has been highlighted in a Canadian Press report, which notes that public opinion and policy differ on either side of the border.
Policy differences were made clear in recent statements issued by Ottawa and the White House on the issue of vaccine documentation.
“The (U.S.) government is not now, nor will we be, supporting a system that requires Americans to carry a credential,” press secretary Jen Psaki told the daily White House briefing.
Contrast that with the recent comments of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who had confirmed Canada is among the countries contemplating a vaccination requirement for international travellers.
On Tuesday, Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu said the government is still considering the use vaccine passports that could allow Canadians to travel outside the country without facing quarantine measures.
Hajdu says Canada is prepared to work with other countries to ensure Canadians have the documents they will need.
“We remain committed to having those conversations with our international partners because however that conversation evolves, we want to make sure Canadians have the right documentation for future travel,” said Hajdu.
A new online Leger poll suggests the idea is dividing public opinion on both sides of the border, too.
Just over half of Canadian respondents, 52 per cent, said they support showing proof of vaccination to participate in certain activities, compared with 43 per cent of their U.S. counterparts.
Jack Jedwab, president of the Association for Canadian Studies and the Canadian Institute for Identities and Migration, says the disparity could cause a snag in the Canada-U.S. border reopening.
“I don’t think that Canadians are going to look kindly on the idea that, you know, you could have significant numbers of people crossing the border that are unvaccinated.”