Health Minister Christine Elliott is defending the province’s COVID-19 vaccine certificate program as the government released a list of exemptions today ahead of its rollout next week.
On Tuesday, the government outlined more details of its vaccine certificate program that launches on Sept. 22.
The program requires residents to show proof that they have received both doses of an approved COVID-19 vaccine at least 14 days prior to entering non-essential businesses, including gyms, cinemas, restaurants, casinos, strip clubs and nightclubs.
However, patrons don’t have to prove they’re fully immunized when they enter establishments to access an outdoor area, to place or pick up an order, to use the washroom or to place a bet at a horse racing track.
Elliott says businesses will be required to authenticate patrons’ identification and vaccine certificates and that police officers can assist with enforcement if either businesses or patrons don’t comply.
“If there are any businesses that are concerned, that when they refuse entry to a restaurant or gym or whatever it happens to be that if any point they feel threatened we want them to call 911 as soon as possible to make sure that our police officers can be there to assist,” she said Tuesday afternoon.
The government says provincial offences officers, along with bylaw, police, public health inspectors and regulatory officers are allowed to provide education and enforcement to businesses and patrons.
Individuals and businesses could face a fine of about $750 and $1,000, respectively, for non-compliance.
Elliott added that she doesn’t expect that the demand for police will increase once the certificates come into effect.
“I don't anticipate the demand is going to be huge because we're asking people to be reasonable. We have let people know what the requirements are well in advance of the changes being made.”
Residents who are attending a wedding or funeral service and are not attending the associated social gathering are also exempted from showing proof of vaccination.
Exemptions are also given to those who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons and for children under 12 years old who are not currently eligible for a vaccine in the province.
Children between ages 12 and 18 will also be allowed to enter indoor sports and recreation facilities without showing proof of vaccination but only “solely for the purpose of actively participating in an organized sport.”
Proof of vaccination will not be required at essential services, including grocery stores, religious services, pharmacies, and banks.
Officials say the vaccine certificate program, which is intended to be temporary, aims to reduce transmission of the deadly virus and encourage vaccinations as the highly-contagious Delta variant continues to spread.
Ontarians will be expected to temporarily use the paper or PDF vaccine receipt that is available online, along with photo ID to prove that they have been fully immunized until the province releases its QR code system.
Ontarians will be provided a unique QR code that contains information about their vaccination status and an app will be developed for businesses to read that code.
The QR code system is expected to launch on Oct. 22.
There are currently only two valid medical exemptions patrons can use when the vaccine certificates come into effect.
“The first being a severe allergic reaction to any of the components confirmed by an allergist. The second being inflammation to the heart, the sac around the heart called myocarditis or pericarditis,” Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore said.
Individuals with these medical exemptions must show their identification and a written document by a physician or nurse practitioner.
The government says an individual’s medical exemption will also be connected to their personal QR code once that comes into effect.
If a patron or physician were to create a fraudulent document they would be penalized.
“If there is abuse of this by physicians or nurses of the extended class, there may be professional discipline for them. And if there's fraud, there is a process through the Reopening of Ontario Act enforcement that can deal with the fraud aspect,” Moore said.
HOW BUSINESSES MUST VERIFY CERTIFICATES
The government also released more details today on how businesses can authenticate vaccine certificates by verifying only the name of the ID holder and date of birth. A photo ID is not required.
Acceptable documents to confirm identity include: birth certificate, citizenship card, driver’s licence, government issued ID card, health card, Indian status card/Indigenous membership card, passport and permanent resident card.
Expired Ontario issued identification will be accepted.
If the name and date of birth on both the patron’s ID and the vaccine certificate do not match then the individual will not be allowed to enter the business or organization.
When a patron shows their vaccine certificate, businesses and organizations must verify:
• name and date of birth
• where the receipt was issued (Ontario, Indigenous health provider or from another jurisdiction are acceptable.
• individual is fully vaccinated
• date of administration of the final shot was at least 14 days ago
The government says starting this week provincial offences officers are visiting businesses and organizations to raise awareness about the vaccine certificate program.
Burden on businesses to enforce certificates
Many critics argue that businesses and organizations are stuck with the burden of verifying and enforcing the certificates which is another hurdle that they’ll have to face after being shut down for months during the pandemic.
“This is a lot. Again, we’re downloading another raft of public health responsibilities down to small business people. Some of the same people that have been locked down in parts of the economy for 400 days,” Dan Kelly, president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business told CP24.
Kelly says many businesses will have to hire more staff to ensure someone is always checking patrons’ vaccination status and adhering to the rules.
“A business is going to have to have somebody more or less assigned full time, to being at the door to ensure that no unvaccinated customer comes into the business, that they make a mistake there. They're subject to fines and penalties,” he said.
NDP leader Andrea Horwath says the program is unclear and reiterated that the government needs to make vaccinations mandatory for all non-essential businesses.
“People had hoped that the government would be announcing some improvements to the certificate program this afternoon but we were all sorely let down once again by the Ford government,” she said to reporters on Tuesday.
“We need to see a government that’s prepared to say very clearly that all non-essential businesses and services should require a vaccine certificate.”
-With files from CP24’s Codi Wilson.