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Vaccine passports might be unjust, says B.C.’s ombudsperson

Click to play video: 'B.C.’s vaccine passport plans and potential problems' B.C.’s vaccine passport plans and potential problems
While work is underway to create some sort of Vaccine Passport system, B.C's ombudsperson has released guidelines on its use. Richard Zussman reports. – May 26, 2021

VICTORIA – As British Columbia lays out plans to shed COVID-19 restrictions, the person who ensures fair access to government resources is calling for caution, especially when deciding who is eligible for relaunched services.

A statement from the office of B.C.’s ombudsperson says vaccination certification programs are being explored in B.C. and in jurisdictions across Canada.

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Ombudsperson Jay Chalke says this raises concerns about provincial or local public services being limited based on vaccination status.

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The organization representing the public advocates across Canada has released guidance about how so-called vaccination passports could affect receipt of services under its members’ jurisdiction such as municipal, health, education and other provincial ministries.

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Chalke says fairness must be at the centre of any passport program and the national guidance document created by the Canadian Council of Parliamentary Ombudsman agrees.

It says passports must be open to appeal, alternative services must be available for those who have not been vaccinated and governments must offer clear legislation or policy directions about how vaccine certifications are used.

Read more: Majority of Canadians support COVID-19 vaccine passports for concerts, travel: Ipsos

The mandate of a provincial or territorial ombudsman is to ensure people are treated fairly in the delivery of public services and Chalke says vaccine passports have the potential to “result in outcomes that are unreasonable, unfair and unjust.”

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“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,” Chalke said in the statement.

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

If governments do decide to restrict access to services based on a person’s vaccination status, Chalke said the decision must be transparent, procedurally fair and clearly communicated.

Possible confusion created by vaccine passports will likely result in complaints to his office, he said.

He said he hopes the guidance issued by his colleagues across Canada will prevent unfairness by offering “proactive reminders” to governments.

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