Should Quebec issue vaccine passports this fall to require proof of vaccination for non-essential activities? Yes. Absolutely. The science clearly shows that there is one way to protect ourselves and our neighbours - and keep our hospitals from being overwhelmed - and that’s by having the vast majority of the population vaccinated.
Has that target number shifted from 75 per cent to 90 per cent with the shift of new variants like the Delta? Yes, things shift, but experts in the health sciences field agree vaccination is the solution if we want to avoid all the shutdowns and closures we suffered through the last year and a half.
Does that mean there should be no discussion around the vaccine passport and how it is implemented? No. In fact, it would be better for everyone in this province - and everyone watching us, as we are the first province to introduce such a mandate - if all the arguments about the critical details get a thorough airing.
Premier François Legault wants Quebec’s vaccine passport system up and running by Sept. 1, which makes sense since we need a big push to get both shots in the arm of everyone eligible by the time school starts. After all, the vulnerable population has shifted from seniors to children for whom there is no vaccine right when the Delta - which evidence shows can infect and hospitalize children - is surging.
But that doesn’t mean the premier should quash all debate about a critical piece of legislation that will affect every one of his citizens. Everything about the pandemic is hotly debated, but requiring individuals to show government-issued documents to do basic activities like going to a bar may be the most controversial. The arguments are raging online (of course), and in Montreal a recent protest saw thousands march in the street.
Legault says he doesn’t want to give the already toxic conspiracy theorists and anti-vaxxers a platform, but leaders of the opposition parties are asking to hold the discussion in the National Assembly to hear from scientists and other credible experts. This is a good idea, not just because the whos, hows, and whys of the passport need multiple sets of eyes and minds before the government issues the final product, but because Legault will avoid looking like a deaf dictator. A vaccine passport is a huge and impactful move that limits the freedoms of civil society to a certain degree; it is already a very divisive issue in this province at a time when pandemic fatigue and frustration are at their peak. As the leader of the province’s Liberal party put it recently: “You don’t want to be in a situation where people get really aggressive about the situation.”
Opening the doors to informed, thoughtful debate from various educated viewpoints would bring even more buy-in from the general public, who might otherwise reject the idea if they think it is being forced upon them as a non-debatable edict from powers on high. Vaccine passports will help keep us all healthy, but a fair and robust debate around them will do the same for democracy.