Jason Herring

Published:September 11, 2021

-Calgary Herald


A coalition of organizations representing Alberta’s hospitality industry is considering implementing its own mandate for proof of vaccination against COVID-19 in absence of a provincial policy.

The groups have been discussing paths forward this week as the United Conservative government reiterates it will leave decisions on vaccine passports in the hands of businesses and will not impose such a policy itself.

“We collectively are very frustrated by the government’s lack of movement on a mandate for proof of vaccination for venues and facilities,” said Sol Zia, president of the Calgary Hotel Association.

“We’re collecting data and we’re at the point where a number of associations across the province might move to implement our own mandate.”

A survey of Calgary Hotel Association members conducted Thursday found 80 per cent support a proof-of-vaccination program, Zia said. He said Alberta’s reticence to implement a vaccine passport puts the province at a competitive disadvantage to British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec, which are all rolling out such programs.

Meanwhile, Alberta Hospitality Association president Ernie Tsu said his organization is currently completing a survey of its members, with results expected in the coming days. He said a stance from his organization wouldn’t come until those results were available.

Amid the current discussion over proof of vaccination, a survey by the UCP published in July reemerged online Saturday. In the online survey, titled “No to vaccine passports,” the party says it supports more Albertans getting immunized against COVID-19 but that governments should not mandate vaccine passports to access services or public events in Alberta.

“(Premier) Jason Kenney made it clear — again — that Alberta stands against vaccine passports for simply living your normal lives within Canada. It is a violation of privacy rights for Albertans as they move across Alberta,” the survey reads. Upon completing, an email is sent to the person who filled it in to solicit donations to the party.

The UCP told Postmedia Saturday the survey is not new but did not respond to inquiries about whether the survey accurately represents the party’s current stance.

When asked repeatedly this week whether Alberta would bring in a vaccine passport, Health Minister Tyler Shandro would not commit to an answer but said the province would watch evidence around whether the policy helps boost vaccine uptake elsewhere. Some evidence of this has already emerged; B.C. saw vaccine appointments jump by up to 200 per cent in the days following its vaccine passport announcement.

The Opposition NDP criticized the survey Saturday, calling vaccine passports a necessary tool to combat Alberta’s fourth wave of COVID-19.

“Jason Kenney is more focused on pandering to the extremist anti-mask and anti-vax members of his party than in keeping Albertans safe,” said NDP Deputy Leader Sarah Hoffman in a news release.

Opinion polling suggests the majority of Albertans support a vaccine passport. An Angus Reid survey conducted in the first week of September found 54 per cent of Albertans are in favour of proof of vaccination in public spaces. As of Friday, 78.9 per cent of Albertans age 12 and over who are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine have one dose, while 70.9 per cent have both necessary shots.

Alberta is currently developing printable cards to prove vaccination status, as well as a scannable QR code to do the same. Shandro has said businesses and employers are welcome to impose their own policies, but a frequently-asked-questions page about proof of vaccination on the province’s website warns “private businesses and municipalities’ decisions may be subject to legal challenges by individual Albertans.”

Doctors and academics with Protect Our Province, a group that is hosting its own news briefings on COVID-19 independent from the province, discussed vaccine passports Friday.

University of Calgary health law expert Lorian Hardcastle said there are privacy and human rights questions surrounding vaccine passports. Any proof-of-vaccine mandate would have to accommodate those who are medically unable to get their shot, she said, and considerations would have to be made for how much personal information is disclosed.

“Those human rights issues and those privacy law issues are both things that can be managed,” Hardcastle said. “Although they’re presented as barriers to vaccine passports, I don’t think that’s accurate. I view them more as things that have to be considered and managed in implemented vaccine passports.”

Zia said a vaccine passport would both help keep Albertans safe and protect businesses from the revenue losses experienced during previous waves of the pandemic.

“We want the government to do the right thing,” he said.

“We’re two-fold entering a restrictive environment that curtails business and we’re at a competitive disadvantage because the government is somehow still not entertaining a mandate for proof of vaccination.”

Tsu said recent public-health restrictions rolled out by the province, including a ban on alcohol sales after 10 p.m., are hurting Alberta’s hospitality industry. He said the province has been uncommunicative about policies that have had an impact on local businesses.

“This curfew has affected every musician, every DJ,” Tsu said. “It’s up to our government to lead, and it’s been an absentee government, and that’s the truth, for the last four weeks.”