Group of people in a city square

The COVID vaccine passport and Charter rights

Though they believe vaccine passports violate Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, anti-vaxers will find this very difficult to prove in court, says a lawyer with UBC’s Peter A. Allard School of Law.

The key question in this debate is whether vaccine passports are mandated or an option.

Photo credit: Posters used against the vaccine passport in Campbell River, Sep 1, 2021 – Nancy Beach photo

The key passage in the Charter is #7: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.”

Salima Semnani, a lawyer, co-litigation director and lecturer with UBC, told CKTZ News, “there is no mandatory vaccine requirement.”

She explained that British Columbians are given a choice. For example, people who have vaccine passports can eat inside restaurants and go to sports events. Those who refuse will have to be satisfied with take-out and watching sports on television.

“People should have a freedom of choice,” argues Cortes Island resident Nancy Beach.

A recent Insights West market research poll found that 13 per cent of the British Columbians respondents are strongly opposed to a vaccine passport.

This statistic was echoed in the Sept. 16 BC COVID-19 update, which states that 86.3 percent of the population were given their first dose of the vaccine and close to 79 per cent have received two doses.

Beach has written her MP, Rachel Blaney, her MLA, Michele Babchuk, and the local public health office. She was one of the people who recently protested against the vaccine passport in Campbell River’s Spirit Square.

“There has been rallies all over the province,” said Beach. “I was hooting and hollering along with the rest. There were a lot of people there, I do not know if was over 100 or not.”

(The Campbell River Mirror version of this story mentions “a couple hundred participants.”)

Beach cited Alberta-based Justice Centre for Constitutional Reform (JCCF) statements that the shots “are experimental” and clinical trials of the vaccine will not be complete until 2023.

JCCF opposes the vaccine passports, arguing that the government should make the vaccines available to Canadians who want it, but their involvement should end there.

JCCF did not respond to a CKTZ News request for an interview on Sept. 6, but two days later issued a press release stating, “BC’s vaccination requirement infringes Charter rights and freedoms. To be constitutional, vaccine passports must be ‘demonstrably justified’ by the evidence.”

While an official count is not available, the vast majority of Cortes Island’s adult population appears to have been vaccinated at either Gorge Hall, or the Klahoose village, earlier this spring.

Meanwhile the number of COVID cases within the Greater Campbell River Health Area, which includes Cortes Island, has risen to levels not seen since the pandemic arrived in March 2020.

Data from North Island Medical Health Officer Charmaine Enns’ June 16, 2021, address to the City of Campbell River and the BC Centre for Disease Controls Epi-Week maps- Chart by Roy L Hales

Semnani says there could be exceptional circumstances where someone could argue that their charter rights are being violated, for example when they cannot take the vaccine for medical reasons.

She added that even then, it would still be very difficult to make the argument that is was an illegal violation of charter rights.

“Section 1 says all of the rights and freedoms in the Charter are subject to reasonable limit as can be demonstratively justified in a free and democratic society,” explained Semnani. “So if we can say that the vaccine passport is reasonable, it’s proportional due to the fact we have a global pandemic that is killing many, many, many people, then asking for a passport is a reasonable limit on people’s rights.”

Top photo credit: People demonstrating against the vaccine passport in Campbell River, Sep 1, 2021 – Nancy Beach photo

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