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Businesses in Canada Defying Government Mandates to Check for Proof of Vaccination: Interviews

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A growing number of Canadian businesses are openly defying government mandated directives to check customers and consumers for proof of vaccination in order for them to enter their establishments.

Image: Sheila Gunn Reid

In fact, a national movement has sprung up called We Won’t Ask where businesses are placing round blue stickers at the front of their businesses saying they won’t ask people about their vaccination status.

Sheila Gunn Reid, with Rebel News which launched the campaign, said early on when in the pandemic businesses were divided into essential and non-essential with some closed and some not, the media outlet had a campaign called I Will Open.

“That was for businesses who were willing to defy the lockdown and reopen their doors. And We Won’t Ask is sort of along that same theme where there are businesses out there who are rejecting the idea that they need to violate their customer’s privacy, their medical privacy, before they can serve them,” she said. “And a lot of the business owners that I’m talking to are saying they just completely had it with being in constant confrontation with their customers. They want to reset the relationship that has sort of been destroyed by the government over the last 18 or 19 or 20 months I suppose depending on where you live in the country.”

We Won’t Ask – Image: Rebel News

“They’ve been fighting with customers about wearing masks and when they can be open and whether they can serve you at the counter or you have to wait outside for curbside pickup. They’re just over it. They’re not doing it anymore and asking for proof of vaccination is just a bridge too far for them. The uptick has been pretty strong.”

Michael Kehoe

Michael Kehoe, broker/owner of Fairfield Commercial Real Estate in Calgary, said the number of businesses openly defying the government mandated health measures requiring proof of vaccination for entry is a sign of the growing unrest among business owners that is brewing across the country.

“This specific measure is just one more barrier to entry and a form of negativity that is affecting consumer confidence, sales and footfall at shopping and dining venues in Canada,” he said.

“This is a difficult situation for everyone that will play out over the next weeks in a divisive and dramatic way, I am sure. I have received many anxious and, in some cases, angry calls from business owners and colleagues who are uneasy with the current state of affairs. We all need to step back, lean in and do what is right for any given situation to get through the current challenges.”

PATH Vaccination Signage – Photo by Dustin Fuhs
Bruce Winder

Bruce Winder, author of RETAIL Before, During & After COVID-19 and President of Bruce Winder Retail, said he personally thinks that vaccine passports are needed to control COVID-19. The problem with the situation is that governments have delegated the administration of this process to businesses on the front line.

“This delegated administration has resulted in several problems. First, the process of checking customer’s vaccine passports takes time and adds additional labour cost at a time when sales are already challenging. This negatively impacts a business’s profits. Second, front line staff are left to ‘police’ customers who may become irate and take it out on workers if they are told they can’t come in. Third, in many provinces the technology needed to help validate vaccine passports has been lacking. Apps are late coming, and staff are forced to read paper versions of the passport which takes extra time and may lack accuracy,” he said.

“Finally, although vaccine passports have been mandated, capacity at many businesses has remained low. That is, governments have not allowed some businesses to increase customer capacity for those that are vaccinated. This further impairs top line growth.

“It is no wonder that many businesses have refused to participate in the process. Without the proper training, technology and financial compensation for labour, businesses have been caught in the middle on a very contentious issue that should be managed within government.”

Dan Kelly
Dan Kelly

Dan Kelly, President and CEO of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said while he understands the frustrations on the part of business owners and the opposition on the part of many on vaccine passports, as a business association it never recommends that a business defies the law.

“It’s a super risky proposition to not enforce the rules. You run the risk of being fined or entirely shut down. But there’s no question this is an incredibly divisive issue and most small businesses are not at all happy about becoming the vaccine police. Yet again the governments have pushed down responsibility to businesses to protect the public from COVID in a really fairly cavalier and thoughtless way,” said Kelly.

“The goal of vaccine passports of course is to motivate more Canadians to be vaccinated by taking away some of their freedoms. It’s to make being unvaccinated inconvenient. But the enforcement is not being done by governments themselves. The governments have passed the buck to the poor business owner to have to be the bearer of bad news and to cut off another chunk of their customer base. Many of our members oppose this on principle. They say that this is just unfair and this is not the right decision. But many others worry about it from one of two perspectives.

“One is their practical ability to enforce these rules or two the fact that they’re going to have to lose another potentially 20 per cent of their customer base at a time when they can ill afford to do that. Yes, there is some goal of separating the vaccinated from the unvaccinated. But the primary goal of the policy is to push more people to be vaccinated using small businesses that are already hanging on by their fingernails to do it. And that’s the part that I think just feels unfair and I will say it is beyond frustrating to me that people that have a grievance against this policy are taking it up with the poor business owner that is required, by law, to implement these rules. It’s entirely inappropriate. If people are frustrated by this policy I understand that sentiment but they should be taking up their concerns with their political leaders who are imposing these policies, not the poor business owners who are required to comply with them.”

James Rilett (Photo Restaurants Canada)

James Rilett, Restaurants Canada Vice President, Central Canada, said the organization’s advice to members is simple – follow the law.

“There’s no ifs, ands or buts about it. If you don’t follow the law obviously it’s going to hurt you in the end and all these people that are encouraging you to be part of their movement won’t be there when you are facing the consequences of your actions. So we’re telling all our members to follow the law, do what you have to to try and get this pandemic to end and hopefully we’ll come to a point where things like this aren’t necessary anymore,” he said.

“Right from the start of the pandemic, safety was what our customers say they wanted to be assured of and that’s why our industry was the first to implement many of the safety procedures before they were even required by the governments. It makes no sense to go through all this and put all this trouble and time and money into ensuring your customers are safe and then throwing it away just as we’re seeing the finish line.”

“If you look at the demographics, I think about 80 per cent of people in Canada are vaccinated and if you’re going to turn your back on 80 per cent of your customers in favour of the 10 to 15 per cent that refuse to get vaccinated well that’s not an equation that works for a business. In the end, it’s up to a business to make sure that they stay in business and that they follow the law so that they can continue once this is all over.”

Article Author

Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary, has more than 40 years experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist, and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, faith, city and breaking news, and business. He is the Senior National Business Journalist with Retail Insider in addition to working on his own as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. I showed my vaccines proof when entering a restaurant last week – it didn’t even take 1 minute so why all the fuss. It made me feel much safer and means I can eat in a restaurant which I didn’t do for the first 9 months of this year. Hey restaurant owners – do you want my business or not? Seems like an easy decision.

  2. Umm. I don’t feel safe anywhere regardless of whether the passport ensures people have been vaccinated, or not. The point is, my vaccine “may” lessen symptoms if I contract the disease. That is my choice, but again does it mean that I won’t contract the disease? To my knowledge, there is no guarantee. Soooo… The passport is mandated and the establishment owner has to ask me for my medical status. Which will protect whom? Me, or someone else? Why am I giving this information out again? I would rather just avoid the whole thing and stay home. I have to wear a mask if I’m inside regardless.
    My point is, the false sense of freedom and control is ridiculous and not worth every and anybody digging around in my personal details.

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