Canada’s privacy commissioners issue statement on COVID-19 vaccine passports

vaccine passports would need to be continually monitored to ensure they are justified.

While vaccine passports may offer substantial public benefit, it is in fact an encroachment on our civil liberties.

In a joint statement issued Wednesday, Federal, Provincial and Territorial Privacy Commissioners said governments and the private sector need to consider privacy “at the earliest opportunity” when engaging in COVID-19 vaccine passport discussions.

“At its essence, a vaccine passport presumes that individuals will be required or requested to disclose personal health information – their vaccine/immunity status – in exchange for goods, services and/or access to certain premises or locations. While this may offer substantial public benefit, it is an encroachment on civil liberties that should be taken only after careful consideration,” the statement reads.

If vaccine passports become mandatory in Canada, either in public or private sector environments, the commissioners said they must be developed and implemented to comply with privacy laws.

They also said vaccine passports would need to be continually monitored to ensure they are justified.

As officials in Ottawa mull over the idea, the White House flirted with the idea but ultimately ruled out imposing vaccine passports in April.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said vaccine passports are likely going to happen for international travel and are “naturally to be expected” as part of the pandemic.

Trudeau said the federal government is “very carefully” looking at the prospect of a vaccine passport system for international travel.

Trudeau told reporters in March he was reluctant to introduce a system of vaccine passports in Canada because of lingering concerns about inequities.

During a speech at the Reuters Next conference in January, Trudeau said he was opposed to the idea of mandating people to carry digital proof that they had been vaccinated against COVID-19.

Trudeau said people wouldn’t get vaccinated for many reasons, not necessarily through a personal or political choice, but for valid medical reasons.

“The indications that the vast majority of Canadians are looking to get vaccinated will get us to a good place without having to take more extreme measures that could have real, divisive impacts,” he said.

The World Health Organization (WHO) advised against vaccine passports for international travel in a January statement.

“There are still critical unknowns regarding the efficacy of vaccination in reducing transmission and limited availability of vaccines,” read the statement.