Quebec is announcing it will impose a health tax on Quebecers who refuse to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Quebec Premier François Legault made the announcement in Montreal on Tuesday afternoon, as the number of pandemic-related hospitalizations continues to climb.
“A health contribution will be charged to all adults that don’t want to get vaccinated. We are there now,” he said.
Legault said he felt the ire of the vaccinated towards the unvaccinated, whom he blamed for clogging up the province’s hospitals.
Only 10 per cent of the population is unvaccinated but they make up 50 per cent of patients in intensive care beds, according to the premier.
On Tuesday the province reported an increase of 188 patients with COVID-19 for a total of 2,742. Of those, 255 are in intensive care.
“Those who refuse to get the shot bring a burden to hospital staff and an important financial burden for the majority of Quebecers. It’s not true that the 10 per cent of the population will bring harm to the 90 per cent.”
Legault said there will be an exemption for those who can’t be vaccinated for medical reasons.
The government is still working out the amount that will have to be paid, but Legault said it would be “significant.”
“All Quebec adults who refuse in the coming weeks to at least get a first dose, will be getting a bill,” he said.
Legault touted vaccination as a key to success and urged Quebecers to get all their required doses, including booster shots.
Last week Health Minister Christian Dubé announced the province’s vaccine passport would be required to purchase liquor and cannabis at SAQ and SQDC stores as of Jan. 18.
Dubé also said its use would be expanded to include other non-essential businesses such as personal care services.
Legault said that while that option was still on the table, he didn’t feel it went far enough.
“I think right now it’s a question of fairness for the 90 per cent who made some sacrifices. I think we owe them this kind of measure,” he said of the new health subsidy.
Constitutional and human rights lawyer Julius Grey thinks the new measure could face legal challenges.
“Discriminatory taxes can be challenged but I’m not sure that’s what this is. What Premier François Legault is trying to do is make vaccination obligatory,” he said.
Grey added both the government and opponents could build a solid case for or against mandatory vaccination.
“On each side there would be rational argument and the courts would decide,” he said. “It would be a close call.”
The government could argue there is a laudable purpose to the measure in fighting COVID-19, and a logical connection between what they’re doing and the fight against the virus. It could also argue it’s essential as the virus is threatening to paralyze the medical system.
“On the other hand, people would say this is very serious violation of the Charter. It touches your personal integrity, physical integrity by doing things to people they are not willing to have done,” Grey said.
Behavioural psychologist Simon Bacon believes taxing the unvaccinated isn’t the answer. He says instead the government should look to address their concerns and fears.
New interim public health director
Legault announced the financial penalty after introducing the province’s new public health director following Monday’s resignation of Dr. Horacio Arruda.
Arruda served as the province’s top health official throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
He is being replaced on an interim basis by Dr. Luc Boileau, who until Monday was head of the government health-care research institution called the Institut national d’excellence en sante et services sociaux.
Legault thanked Arruda for his work and admitted the position is often difficult due to constant scrutiny.
“Being in front of the media every day to try to explain decisions is not easy for anyone,” he said. “I want to send a huge thank you to Dr. Arruda for everything that he has done over the past 22 months for the well-being of Quebecers.”
The premier also addressed the issue of curfew and the impending return of students to in-person learning.
Regarding the curfew, he said it would be maintained until the situation is under control in the province.
As for the return to school, Legault said the goal is still to have students back in the classroom on Monday, Jan. 17 but the government is weighing the pros and cons.
He admitted that on one hand, sending kids back increases the number of contacts but not sending them back can have an impact on their mental health and learning.
Legault said he wanted to give Boileau time to weigh in on the situation before announcing any new measures or removing restrictions.