In a press release published on Wednesday, UPAC reminded people that producing, trafficking or using a fraudulent vaccine passport could lead to various charges under the Criminal Code, including producing and using false documents, breach of trust and corruption.
“Those are criminal charges and people could face up to five years in prison for those charges,” said UPAC spokesperson Mathieu Galarneau.
Someone taking part in such activities could also face criminal charges for contravening the Public Health Act.
UPAC says it is working in concert with the Health Ministry to identify problematic situations and potential infractions.
The unit is also collaborating with various police forces and other law enforcement agencies as well as the crown prosecutor’s office to ensure cases are properly processed.
In an interview with Global News, Galarneau said it began investigating in July of 2021 and there are around 30 active cases.
Public Safety Minister Geneviève Guilbault told Radio-Canada Thursday morning that various police forces in the province have opened about 150 investigations into the fake documents.
She said UPAC is investigating cases involving fraud or attempted fraud by government employees, while provincial and municipal police are looking into users and sellers outside government.
Guilbault said false passports will be deactivated, and reiterated that those found using them could face charges.
The anti-corruption unit released few details pertaining to the various schemes so as to not harm the collection of evidence in ongoing investigations and to protect the reputation of people who may be involved until they are formally accused.
“We don’t want to give people the means or ideas to produce fake QR codes,” Galarneau added.
UPAC said it decided to go public because of the health risk associated with the use of false vaccine passports.
“People need to be safe when they use a QR code, it is a public health measure,” Galarneau said. “So for us it’s a priority to treat those cases right now.”
During a press conference Thursday afternoon, Health Minister Christian Dubé explained the fraudulent passports were not a result of a computer system vulnerability but rather stemmed from ill-intentioned employees.
“We’ve given 16 million doses (of vaccine) and hired a lot of people,” Dubé said. “We knew there was a risk.
“It’s unfortunate, but some employees will commit fraud. What we made sure of is that we have the means of catching them.”
Dubé went on to say that since becoming aware of possible fraudulent activities and alerting UPAC, control measures have been tightened.
He also said a built-in feature of the app is the ability to revoke passports.
In the coming days, business owners will need to update their VaxiCode Verif app and revoked or fake passports will return a red code, according to Dubé.
Anyone with information pertaining to the production or use of false vaccine passports can communicate with UPAC online or by calling 1-844-541-UPAC.
No arrests have been made to date.
The province’s vaccine passports came into effect on Sept. 1, 2021. Proof of vaccination is required for Quebecers aged 13 and over to access certain activities and non-essential businesses, such as restaurants, gyms and movie theatres. The mandate was introduced as an incentive for people to get vaccinated against COVID-19 in a bid to limit the spread of the virus and reduce the burden on the province’s health-care system.
Quebec recently expanded the use of the vaccine passport amid a surge of cases linked to the Omicron variant, making it a requirement to buy liquor and cannabis at SAQ and SQDC stores. Starting Jan. 24, it will also be required to access big box stores.
— With files from The Canadian Press