After weeks of pressure, and weeks without a formal press conference, Premier Doug Ford and Minister of Health Christine Elliot joined Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr, Kieran Moore to announce a great idea they had: A vaccine certification program. If you want to go to select businesses starting on September 22, you will need to provide proof of vaccination.
“The vaccine is the best tool we have to keep people safe, keep our hospitals from being overwhelmed and avoid further lockdowns, and that’s why we’re adopting an enhanced vaccine certificate,” Ford said at an announcement from Queen’s Park on Wednesday afternoon.
Ford has been heavily criticized the last several weeks for refusing to initiate a program like the one he was announcing Wednesday. According to the Premier, it was his hope that the Federal government would implement a nation-wide certification program to avoid a “patch-work” of programs across the country, while at the same time noting that it was “no secret” that he was against such a program.
“After in-depth discussions with our medical experts, we’ve landed on a vaccine certificate policy that is based on evidence and best advice,” Ford added. “It’s no secret that this is something that we did not want to do, and we’re not taking lightly. Let me be clear: This is a temporary tool that we won’t use for day one longer than we have to.”
The business affected by the vaccine certification program include meeting and event spaces like banquet halls and conference/convention centres, sports and fitness facilities, sporting events, casinos, bingo halls, concert and performance venues, music festivals, cinemas, racing venues, and adult entertainment establishments. You will also need to show proof of vaccination for indoor dining at bars and restaurants, as well as for nightclubs both indoors and outdoors.
“The venues that we have chosen are responsive to the risk that we’ve found in Ontario,” explained Dr. Moore. “If the risk increases in other venues, we can add and implement additional measures to protect Ontarians, but this is very responsive, very data driven, and is based on the risks that currently exist in Ontario with good feedback from all of the medical officers of health in high risk jurisdictions where outbreaks are currently occurring.”
Starting on September 22, you will have to show proof of vaccination with the paper or .pdf receipt of your two vaccination shots plus photo ID, at least until the Government of Ontario releases a digital receipt in the form of a QR code on your phone. Individuals with a medical exemption will have to show a doctor’s note, at least until this can be incorporated into the digital verification app as well.
This app will be made available sometime in October, along with a verifier app for the use of small businesses and affected venues.
“I want to be clear that at no time will people be denied medical care, food from grocery stores or basic medical supplies based on their vaccination status,” added Minister of Health Christine Elliott. “We will also maintain access to these settings to those who have a medical exemption or children who are not yet eligible to receive the vaccine.”
Ford acknowledged the likely controversy that will arise from initiating this vaccine certification program. Mask and vaccine mandates have been a source of mass protest by the vaccine hesitant and others who believe COVID-19 conspiracy theories, and they’ve also been a source of individual acts on opposition.
In fact, the Guelph Police Service announced in their media release on Wenesday that they charged a Guelph man under the Trespass to Property Act after he refused to wear a mask in a north end grocery store. When staff asked that he done a mask he “became agitated and began recording staff,” which is not so different from last summer when police were called to several incidents where retail employees were spit on by customers who refused to wear a mask.
Ford was asked in the media availability about the workers and business owners who will essentially have to police the certification program. The premier asked for courtesy and understanding from the general public. “If people want to get angry, if they want to protest, they can come down to Queen’s Park, but please, these people are just trying to earn a living, they’re just trying to do their jobs,” Ford said emphatically.
“We have to unite as a province, and I know this isn’t easy. Believe me,” Ford added. “This is very, very difficult, but we have two options here: We either continue to move forward in a responsible and very reasonable way, or we aren’t proactive, and we don’t take these steps. Nothing’s worse than shutting down the entire economy.”
Reaction from opposition party leaders was mixed. Some were grateful that the Provincial government has finally taken this direction while others were angry with the tepid and delayed vaccine certification program.
“I’m encouraged to see this long overdue action, but we can never forget that Doug Ford only does the right thing when he is dragged there kicking and screaming,” said Liberal leader Steven Del Duca, who was the most positive. “I am deeply concerned about how long it will take Doug Ford to fully roll the vaccine certificates out. A Liberal government would have implemented certificates earlier this summer when the Conservatives and NDP were still opposing them, allowing us to enter the fall with a strong and clear plan to keep people safe and help our lives return to normal.”
NDP leader Andrea Horwath said that she and Official Opposition bench will be watching this roll out closely to make sure it’s fair and equitable, while leaving no one in the province behind.
“Vaccine certificates aren’t coming soon enough for the small businesses that have been struggling without provincial guidance to keep their customers and staff safe, and Mr. Ford is still leaving far too many businesses on their own to make tough decisions,” Horwath said. “Mr. Ford seems to be more interested in not offending anti-vaxxers than in protecting Ontarians.”
Green Party leader Mike Schreiner, who held a press conference yesterday calling out the Provincial government for a lack of planning to protect schools, said that once again the Premier and his cabinet have failed to plan ahead, and failed to take their plan far enough.
“Today’s vaccine certificate news is welcome, but Doug Ford has once again delivered a bare minimum half measure that’s months late,” Schreiner said. “Ford’s delays means Ontario won’t have a digital QR code until October 22, well over a month after the start of the school year.”
“We need a vaccine certificate that is accessible to all, easily enforceable, comprehensive and clearly communicated, but right now, Ford’s vaccine certificate rollout is slow, scarce on details, and doesn’t go far enough to fulfill its purpose,” Schreiner added.
News about the province-wide vaccine certification came one day after the Guelph hit the 90 per cent mark for having eligible residents with at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. It’s also nearly a week after the City of Guelph first announced that all workers, politicians and volunteers at City facilities will have to be fully vaccinated to enter.