Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been adamantly pushing for Canadians to get the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccine in hopes that Canadians could begin international travel again as soon as this summer. While Trudeau and Canadian Health Minister Patty Hajdu are both highly supportive of vaccine passports and look forward to collaborating with other countries, the U.S. remains reluctant.
The Biden administration has so far rejected the idea of vaccine passports due to ethical concerns related to personal rights and freedoms. However, the U.S. is currently in talks with the European Union about Europe’s Digital Green Certificate program, which provides digital proof of COVID-19 vaccination, a recent negative test result, or recovery from COVID-19. National authorities such as hospitals, testing centers, and health authorities are in charge of issuing the certificates.
Trudeau’s advice to Canadian citizens “to get vaccinated with the first vaccine offered to you” has been criticized because it clashes with the National Advisory Committee on Immunization’s (NACI) recommendations. The committee has advised people under 30 to not receive the AstraZeneca vaccine due to risks of vaccine-induced thrombotic thrombocytopenia (VITT) that outweigh potential benefits.
New Brunswick Education Minister Dominic Cardy denigrated NACI and sided with Trudeau’s heavy pro-vaccine sentiments. “Ignore NACI, ignore anti-maskers, ignore the people undermining faith in science, and do your part for New Brunswick,” he said.
With regard to showing vaccine certification to international allies, Trudeau said that Canada has been “looking very carefully at it, hoping to align with allied countries.” He mentioned that even if vaccine passports will not be required for Canadians entering the U.S., Canada will require U.S. citizens to show vaccine passports if they wish to enter Canada.
Health Minister Patty Hajdu said that Canada is “working toward an international consensus on how a system, or multiple systems, would work across governments.” According to Hajdu, “Canadians are going to want to travel and just like there have been changes in other kinds of travel requirements over the years as a result of a number of events, Canadians need to be prepared to be able to travel internationally. And we’ll make sure that they are.”
Significant privacy concerns and implementation flaws
Brenda McPhail, director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association’s privacy, technology & surveillance project, warned of significant data protection issues involving vaccine passports. She expressed concern about people declining vaccines due to underlying health conditions because if they were forced to provide proof of their medical history, their personal privacy would be violated.
“Health information is some of the most sensitive information about us, which means we have to ask critical, very granular questions about exactly what data is collected, including what kind of identifiers are used and how they’re verified, where data comes from and how it travels through a system, from app to airline to border control,” McPhail said.
Currently, most Canadians re-entering Canada use an app called ArriveCAN, which requires users to submit personal contact information, a quarantine plan, a symptom self-assessment survey, and details about the user’s stay at a government-approved hotel. While under quarantine, users must answer calls from government officials to ensure compliance with quarantine measures. Failure to comply with quarantine laws can result in a maximum of $750,000 in fines or a sentence of six months in prison.
Canada’s hotel quarantine scheme has received widespread backlash for its expensive price tag and flawed implementation. According to the CBC, the costs are “associated with the room, food, cleaning, infection prevention and control measures, and security as well as transportation.” Compliance to the program is left up to inbound travelers, who must find their own way to the quarantine hotel and may be housed in the same building as regular guests.