Transport Canada Predicted Vaccine Mandate Would ‘Provoke a Response’ and Lead to 'Awkward' Situations

Transport Canada Predicted Vaccine Mandate Would ‘Provoke a Response’ and Lead to 'Awkward' Situations
Protesters stand on the back of a truck during the Freedom Convoy demonstrations against COVID-19 vaccine mandates and other restrictions on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Jan. 29, 2022. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
Noé Chartier

The federal government predicted there would be a backlash to its "strict" COVID-19 vaccine mandate as "sympathetic/vulnerable" Canadians would be denied travel, an internal document shows.

A briefing delivered to Transport Minister Omar Alghabra on Oct. 2, 2021, laid out the main aspects of the travel vaccine mandate policy that would come into force on Oct. 30.

Transport Canada policymakers acknowledged that Canada's mandate would be more stringent compared to other countries, saying it would “make Canada unique in the world in terms of strict vaccine mandate for domestic travel.”

The mandate would be “slightly stronger than France and Italy, which allow a general alternative of a PCR or antigen test,” the briefing said, noting that such rigorousness would create a “very strong impetus to drive vaccination.”

But policymakers behind the briefing had predicted there would be consequences for barring millions of Canadians from taking a plane, train, or marine vessel.

They told Alghabra that though the mandate would drive vaccine uptake, it “will provoke a response from those opposed.” It also “would lead to some awkward cases of sympathetic/vulnerable Canadians denied travel," the briefing said.

Part of that response came a few weeks later in the form of cross-country protests and blockades against COVID restrictions, with the government responding by taking the unprecedented step of invoking the Emergencies Act.

The Transport Canada briefing was filed in federal court recently as part of documents related to four lawsuits challenging the travel mandate.

The attorney-general is attempting to have the lawsuits deemed moot and thrown out, arguing the domestic travel vaccine mandate doesn't exist anymore.

The challengers say the issue is still live given the government said it was only suspending the mandates and could bring them back at any time. They also want the court to address potential breaches of charter rights.

Phased Approach

Transport Canada implemented the travel mandate in two steps, with the first one starting on Oct. 30, 2021. It consisted of a grace period during which unvaccinated Canadians could still travel by presenting a negative COVID-19 PCR test.

But even during that one-month time frame before the end of the grace period, policymakers thought the obligation to get tested could create a punitive financial burden for the unvaccinated.

The briefing said it would create “an immediate incentive/penalty related to the costs of testing,” adding it would represent approximately $1,600 in extra costs for an unvaccinated family of four for a domestic trip.


So far, a review of a small portion of the court documents has produced a number of revelations surrounding the travel vaccine mandate.

Government witnesses and experts in support of the mandate have submitted affidavits and have been cross-examined by attorneys representing the applicants.

Jennifer Little, director-general of the COVID Recovery Team at Transport Canada who was mainly responsible for drafting the mandate policy, said during cross-examination in early June that she couldn’t recall Health Canada ever recommending the mandate.

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) epidemiologist in charge of reviewing scientific literature on in-flight transmission of the virus, Dr. Lisa Waddell, said during her cross-examination in late May there was little data available on the impacts of vaccination on in-flight transmission.

The research that was done on general in-flight transmission and not necessarily looking at vaccination found the risk of infection during a flight to be low.