Quebec’s New Vaccine Passport Worries Business Owners Amid Precarious Reopening

Bar and restaurant owners cite concerns over potential loss of customers, invasion of privacy
By Andrew Chen
Andrew Chen
Andrew Chen
Andrew is a reporter based in Toronto.
August 18, 2021 Updated: August 25, 2021

With Quebec’s mandatory vaccination passport set to come into effect in less than two weeks, owners of businesses such as gyms, bars, and restaurants in the province are bracing themselves for the potential impact on their operations.

Provincial Health Minister Christian Dubé announced on Aug. 10 that starting Sept. 1, Quebecers will be asked to show the official document as proof they have received both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine when accessing non-essential services or businesses.

Currently, the province does not require a vaccine passport for essential services such as schools, and neither is it required as an employment criterion.

Meanwhile, the federal government has announced that proof of vaccination will be required no later than October for all federal workers as well as workers and passengers in the federally regulated travel industries including the air, rail, and cruise ship sectors.

Some business owners in Quebec worry that this new policy will deal another blow to their operations amid the economic recovery. At the same time, they are raising questions about a possible violation of individual rights.

Eugene Shewchuk, owner of Montreal martial arts school Club Kozak, said he doesn’t feel comfortable “policing” the new regulation regarding his students since he believes “it’s a personal choice” whether to be vaccinated or not.

Shewchuk expressed concern about how far the regulation will go and added that he felt “scared for the younger children if they get coerced” into getting vaccinated. He said he just reopened and has about 25 students attending the school, of whom roughly 15 are unvaccinated.

“I’ve talked to people who were … on the same side as me. [We now] have to flip switches because the government is saying ‘Listen, if we don’t have this [vaccine passport] we will shut down everything—putting the fear factor into everyone,” he said.

On Aug. 14, a large crowd marched down René Lévesque Boulevard in Montreal to protest against the vaccination passport. At least 10,000 people said they would join the demonstration, according to the Facebook page of Quebec Debout, the group that organized the event.

Shewchuk attended the protest. “I am glad because I think we have to push back, of course not violently, but expressing our opinion, because if we just kowtow, bow down to this, I can’t tell what’s next,” he said.

Policy ‘Doesn’t Make Sense’

Peter Sergakis, head of Union des tenanciers des bars du Québec, a union that represents bar and restaurant owners, said he is “not happy with what [the government] is doing.”

“The timing is not right now, because if they started this on Sept. 1, people that have not been vaccinated and the people that have been vaccinated one time only, they wouldn’t be able to come to our establishments,” Sergakis said.

“We don’t want to lose those people because we are already hurting,” he noted, adding that the policy would also require dedicated staffing to check for proof of vaccination. “We don’t have enough employees. Now we have to put employees to verify [the passports] at the door and we don’t want that.”

Sergakis added that the policy “doesn’t make sense” as “we ask people to be vaccinated when they come into a restaurant, and our employees, they don’t have to be vaccinated.”

The Quebec government said the work to establish the passport system “is continuing” and that the way in which the document will be used will depend on “changes in the epidemiological situation and on vaccine coverage in Quebec.”

The Epoch Times reached out to the Quebec health ministry for comment but didn’t receive a response.

Mark Vargas, manager of Restaurant Amazonas in Gatineau, said he has heard from some of his customers that they’re worried they won’t be able to dine at the restaurant once the policy rolls out due to various reasons, including difficulty obtaining the passport.

Vargas said small businesses such as restaurants are likely to face greater impacts than larger corporations, as the number of customers will probably dwindle once again, leading to the possibility of having to lay off staff after having just rehired them.

“We’re really concerned for our staff actually,” he said. “We’re trying to keep them as long as possible, but if what we predict happens, we might have to cut off again,” he said.

Vargas also pointed to the issue of personal privacy.

“We feel it’s a little bit of an invasion of privacy to our customers, because it’s their choice to get vaccinated or not, but now we have to choose only the ones who get vaccinated to come in,” he said.

“I really hope that the government works closely [with] the impacted restaurants, … because we’ve been trained to make it all safe, put all the safety measures in place. And I hope it becomes easier, and we don’t have to enforce something on the customers.”

Andrew Chen
Andrew Chen
Andrew is a reporter based in Toronto.