Madeline Smith

September 23, 2021

-Calgary Herald


A city council decision Wednesday means Calgary restaurants, bars, movie theatres and other businesses must ask patrons for proof of COVID vaccination or a recent negative test.

Children younger than 12 are exempt, since they’re currently not yet eligible to get the shots to protect against COVID.

Recreation and fitness facilities must also require proof of immunization, and that applies to kids 12 and older unless they’re participating in “curriculum-based” school activities.

Council approved the vaccine passport rules in a 13-1 vote, with only Coun. Jeromy Farkas opposed. He said although he’s vaccinated and he encourages others to get their shots, he sees the city’s new rules as “redundant,” and potentially the source of more uncertainty.

The city’s move comes a week after the provincial government rolled out the “Restrictions Exemption Program,” a system allowing businesses to operate without capacity and service limits if they check COVID vaccination or rapid-test status.

But business owners say besides causing confusion, the province’s approach makes it appear as if there’s a choice about whether to mandate vaccinations — even though restaurants, for example, can’t run indoor dining if they don’t opt in to the exemption program. Without participating in the vaccine passport system, many eateries are effectively forced to close.

City officials told council at a special meeting that businesses are reporting the lack of consistency is causing confusion, and they’re also dealing with customers taking out their anger on them. The hope is that the city rules will offer clarity.

The municipal mandate doesn’t mean Calgarians need additional city-approved proof of vaccination: they’ll be able to use the paper or electronic record from the Alberta government, or proof of immunization from the province where they got their shots.

People can also provide a medical exemption letter from a doctor if they can’t be immunized due to a rare condition, such as an anaphylactic reaction to the COVID vaccine.

Coun. Jeff Davison said local proprietors trying to navigate provincial vaccination rules have reported incidents of their staff being spit on, harassed and assaulted, and it’s time for the city to step in.

“The city does have broad shoulders and it is up to us to stand up for those businesses.”

Mayor Naheed Nenshi said in a public address after the meeting that a vaccine requirement will help immunized Calgarians feel safe when they’re patronizing local businesses.

“But more important, we know that implementing these kinds of programs increases the rate of vaccinations in the community, and that’s critical. They’re just not high enough.

Only a little more than 60 per cent of Alberta’s total population has received both doses of a COVID vaccine, the second-lowest rate among Canadian provinces. And we haven’t fared well in the pandemic’s fourth wave: Calgary Emergency Management Agency Chief Sue Henry said Wednesday that Alberta currently has more active COVID cases than Ontario, Quebec and B.C. combined. Calgary’s active case rate is 300 per 100,000 population, which is three times the threshold necessary for the city to lift its mask mandate.

The health-care system is also under extreme strain. The number of people hospitalized in Alberta due to COVID hit a new high Wednesday, with 1,040 getting care, and 230 of those in intensive care.

“Our council has been put in an untenable situation where we’re doing mop-up on behalf of the premier,” Coun. Diane Colley-Urquhart said.

“We’re in the most extreme state of emergency that we’ve been in in 19 months.”

Nenshi added that he was interested in making the municipal bylaw broader than the provincial rules and requiring proof of immunization for places of worship and personal services such as salons. Ultimately, the city chose to align with the Alberta government as much as possible.

“I do not have faith in the ability of the province — who really appears to be making this up as they go along — to be able to put in something that is really going to be effective at saving lives,” he said.

“We just don’t have the luxury of time.”

The city is also now offering mobile vaccination clinics, with plans for five vehicles distributing the shots throughout Calgary. One van is already in operation, and people can request a mobile clinic in their community or at their event by calling 311.

The plan is to run the clinics eight hours a day, seven days a week, for the next month. If there’s demand beyond that, they could be available for another 30 days.

What did council decide?

The vaccine passport bylaw requires eligible businesses and organizations to ask patrons for proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test from a sample taken within the previous 72 hours; an original medical exemption letter is also acceptable.

Where does the bylaw apply?

  • Restaurants, bars, pubs and nightclubs
  • Casinos, bingo halls and VLT lounges
  • Entertainment and recreation centres, including bowling, arcades, billiard halls
  • Museums, art galleries
  • Movie theatres
  • Conferences, meeting spaces, halls and rented spaces
  • Weddings and funerals held in public facilities
  • Professional sporting and other performance events
  • Private social events held in public recreation facilities
  • Adult recreation sport groups
  • Recreation classes and activities
  • Amenities in hotels/condos such as pools and gyms.

What is the penalty?

Failure to provide proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test or a valid medical exemption letter carries a fine of $500.

Permitting someone to enter or remain inside a business or facility without complying with the policy carries a fine of $500.

Failing to display required signage informing people of the rules at a business where it’s required carries a fine of $200.