Canada’s privacy commissioners issue guidance as country mulls COVID-19 vaccine passports

Click to play video: 'COVID-19 vaccine certificates ‘to be expected’ as part of pandemic, Trudeau says'
COVID-19 vaccine certificates ‘to be expected’ as part of pandemic, Trudeau says
WATCH: COVID-19 vaccine certificates ‘to be expected’ as part of pandemic, Trudeau says – Apr 27, 2021

Canada’s federal, provincial and territorial privacy commissioners are issuing guidance as the country continues to mull whether to develop COVID-19 vaccine passports for Canadians.

In a joint statement posted Wednesday afternoon, the country’s privacy commissioners said they wanted to “ensure that privacy is considered at the earliest opportunity as part of any discussions about vaccine passport development.”

The commissioners said that a vaccine passport “presumes” that individuals will be required or requested to disclose personal health information — namely their vaccine or immunity status.

“While this may offer substantial public benefit, it is an encroachment on civil liberties that should be taken only after careful consideration,” the statement reads.

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The commissioners said vaccine passports must be “developed and implemented in compliance with applicable privacy laws.”

“Above all, and in light of the significant privacy risks involved, the necessity, effectiveness and proportionality of vaccine passports must be established for each specific context in which they will be used,” the statement reads.

The commissioners said the passports must be effective, and the privacy risks associated with the passports must be “proportionate.”

The statement also said the vaccine passports must be “decommissioned if, at any time, it is determined that they are not a necessary, effective or proportionate response to address their public health purposes.”

Click to play video: 'Poll shows majority in B.C. open to the idea of COVID-19 vaccine passports'
Poll shows majority in B.C. open to the idea of COVID-19 vaccine passports

The commissioners also outlined several principles they say governments and businesses should adhere to when deciding whether to implement vaccine passports.

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The commissioners said there must be “clear legal authority” for introducing the passports, and that all public and private sector entities must have the authority to request one.

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Governments or businesses that are planning to require individuals present a vaccine passport will need to introduce new laws or amend existing ones or through a public health order.

They said there must also be “consent and trust,” adding that, “consent alone is not enough.”

The commissioners say consent must be “voluntary and meaningful,” and must be based on “clear and plain language” which describes the purpose of the passport.

The information shared must also “be necessary to acheive the purpose,” meaning no additional health information that could potentially be compromised should be added.

Further, the commissioners say that “active tracking or logging of an individual’s activities through a vaccine passport, whether by app developers, government, or any third party, should not be permitted.”

What has the federal government said?

Last month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government was working to coordinate with “partners and allies around the world,” on “vaccine certificates.”

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“As was the case pre-pandemic, certificates of vaccination are a part of international travel to certain regions and are naturally to be expected when it comes to this pandemic and the coronavirus,” Trudeau told a press conference.

In an email to Global News in March, Health Canada said it was aware that some jurisdictions were “considering granting privileges to vaccinated people through a certification process.”

The agency said “any similar consideration in the Canadian context would have to be based on reliable scientific evidence.”

Majority of Canadians support vaccine passports

However, the overwhelming majority of Canadians appear to be in favour of implementing vaccine passports for travel.

A Leger poll published earlier this week found about eight in 10 of the respondents said they favour the idea of vaccine passports for domestic or international travel.

However, that support dropped to six in 10 when Canadians were asked if it is OK for the government or businesses owers to require passports.

Only half of the survey’s respondents said they think store owners should require them for non-essential retail shopping.

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— With files from Global News’ Emerald Bensadoun and The Canadian Press

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