Cabinet budgeted millions for 'vaccine passports' until 2026: memo

According to the memo Supplementary Estimates, the Public Health Agency of Canada budgeted $17.6 million over three years starting in 2022/23 to maintain the vaccine passport program, reported Blacklock's Reporter.

Cabinet budgeted millions for 'vaccine passports' until 2026: memo
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christinne Muschi
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Trudeau's cabinet budgeted millions for a vaccine passport program through 2026, despite the World Health Organization (WHO) declaring the pandemic over. 

A Health Canada memo dated March 23 — almost a year after Canada withdrew vaccine passport requirements — said the department required further funding to support federal measures "as needed going forward," reported Blacklock's Reporter.

"The purpose of the funding is to ensure the continued provision of the Canadian COVID proof of vaccination credentials both as a health record and to facilitate mobility in the context of international travel as well as support the application of public health measures as needed going forward," said the memo Supplementary Estimates.

The federal order mandating proof of vaccination as a prerequisite for travel expired June 30, 2022.

Starting in November of 2021, Parliament made ArriveCAN a mandatory prerequisite for vaccinated Canadians travelling abroad. Those who failed to comply faced a 14-day compulsory quarantine or significant fines of up to $750,000.

Parliament launched the expensive ArriveCAN app in April 2020 as an alleged pandemic management tool. They claimed it would streamline the border-crossing process by allowing travellers to upload quarantine details. 

However, Canadians shared privacy concerns about ArriveCAN potentially sharing their personal medical information widely with other government agencies.

Federal authorities in 2021 said documents proving vaccination status would not be used for other purposes. 

"It is not an identity document," Isabelle Dubois, spokesperson for the Department of Citizenship, said at the time. However, she acknowledged no federal regulations limiting the use of the documents existed.

The now-defunct $54 million albatross — which became optional last September 30 — faced a Commons vote last November 2 for a special spending audit. Results are still pending.

According to the memo, the Public Health Agency of Canada budgeted $17.6 million over three years starting in 2022/23 to maintain the vaccine passport program, reported Blacklock's Reporter. Specifically, the funding would provide "continued…support to provinces and territories," it said.

The WHO declared an end to the pandemic on May 5, as COVID officially entered its endemic phase. 

"It's with great hope that I declare COVID over as a global health emergency," said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. "That does not mean COVID is over as a global health threat."

The Canadian Government Executive, a magazine for federal managers, wrote in a 2021 commentary that vaccine passports should remain regardless of the pandemic.

"After a rigorous analysis of the issue of immunity certificates, this article concludes the necessity of immunity certificates in Canada as a key enabler for the safe reopening of the society and economy in a post-Covid world," said the commentary Covid-19 Immunity Certificate Passports As An Intergovernmental Problem In Canada.

The magazine acknowledged that vaccine passports deeply divided Canadians. "It is important to note in the United States, several states such as Florida, Texas, Arizona, etcetera have either banned or prevented the mandatory use," said the commentary.

"The Justice Centre has heard from thousands of Canadians who have been negatively impacted by the federal government's mandatory requirement to use ArriveCan," said litigator Eva Chipiuk. 

"Thousands of law-abiding citizens have been fined egregiously simply for returning to their home country."

Her colleague and fellow litigator Hatim Kheir called the measure an "unprecedented requirement" for Canadians to enter Canada.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, on October 21, 2021, told reporters they used vaccine passports as a convenience. "You can download it to your phone," he said.

In an Inquiry by Ministry tabled in the Commons, Public Safety Canada disclosed that of 9.97 million air travellers who entered Canada in the first quarter of the year, only 1.13 million used the ArriveCAN app or 11% of travellers.

At international airports in Edmonton, Winnipeg and Ottawa, usage rates fell as low as "less than one percent" for the voluntary program, reported Blacklock's Reporter

While cabinet justified ArriveCAN as a 'time saver' for travellers, the agency confirmed it saved them "about five minutes" at border crossings.

"It's a national program," said Trudeau. "It is a national standard for a proof of vaccination certificate issued by every province and territory so that people can travel domestically, particularly internationally."

The Liberal Party, in its September 1, 2021 election campaign platform Forward For Everyone, advocated an Act of Parliament "to ensure every business and organization that decides to require proof of vaccination from employees and customers can do so without fear of a legal challenge." They have yet to table legislation as of the time of writing.

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