Passport panic sets in as businesses braces for a new ‘policing’ role

Restaurants, pubs, gyms and gambling halls among those asking for your vax info

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Businesses are bracing for Ontario’s first day of vaccine passports Wednesday.

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And they are not thrilled about it.

“The government has turned the hospitality industry into a triage for COVID,” said Larry Isaacs, president of the Firkin Group of Pubs.

Tens of thousands of small businesses like his will start a new chapter in the long COVID-19 saga which has been pulverizing their bottom lines for 19 months.

The responsibility to track customers’ passports, Isaacs said, is an unfair burden.

“We have to monitor the masks, six feet apart, ‘can we take all your details in case we have to COVID trace you?’, and now we’ve become the passport police, as well.”

Isaacs said he worries younger staff might be exposed to unnecessary conflict when demanding and verifying passports.

He said he also does not understand why the passport is not necessary for any of his employees, yet mandatory for customers.

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The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) wrote a letter to Premier Doug Ford last week on the issue.

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The CFIB said it polled its 38,000 Ontario members and found 45% support the institution of vaccine passports, 40% are against the initiative, and 15% were undecided.

“Many of them feel that government is downloading the responsibility to them,” said Julie Kwiecinski, CFIB’s director of provincial affairs for Ontario.

Many of them fear this added burden will come with the potential for conflict.

“For a lot of these businesses, it’s not like they went to police college to figure out how to do de-escalation,” said Kwiecinski.

“We have had some members who have been receiving threats against their staff if they proceed with this.”

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The CFIB wants clarity on what constitutes a legal exemption for being vaccinated and how it can be proven in places like restaurants or gyms.

It also said labour shortages already hindering some businesses could get worse if they need to hire more staff to verify vaccine passports.

“Some of these businesses will be placed in very untenable, unfortunate positions that they’re not comfortable with,” Kwiecinski said.

Isaacs noted that the slower fall and winter months — due to COVID — are approaching.

  1. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh responds to a question during a news conference surrounded by health-care workers in Edmonton, on Thursday, August 19, 2021.

    OPINION: No, COVID-19 vaccine passports and mandatory vaccination do not ‘protect the health and safety of Canadians’

  2. Ontario Premier Doug Ford listens to a question at a Sept. 1, 2021 press conference where he unveiled his government's plan for a vaccine passport.

    Ontario releases guidelines for new vaccine passports

  3. Township of Warwick Mayor Jackie Rombouts stands in Watford’s downtown.

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His hope is that any confusion or conflict over passports does not disrupt already beleaguered industries.

On top of that, he said, lunchtime crowds have not returned to pre-pandemic levels because many people continue to work from home.

“It’s a number of rocky roads that lie in front of us while trying to do what we do,” Isaacs said.

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