Why many businesses don’t want to deal with vaccine passports

TVO.org speaks with Dan Kelly of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business about what he’s hearing from his members about the pros and cons of vaccine passports
By Daniel Kitts - Published on Apr 01, 2021
"Vaccines bring up a whole host of issues for business owners," CFIB president Dan Kelly says. (CFIB)

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In the coming months, should you need to prove you’ve been vaccinated to get on an international flight? What about to go to a movie theatre or a fitness club?

The issue of so-called vaccine passports is getting a lot of attention as Canadians finally start to get vaccinated in large numbers. It was the subject of a debate on The Agenda Wednesday between Michael Bryant of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and Neena Gupta, a lawyer specializing in employment and human-rights law.

Critics of vaccine passports say they would infringe on individual freedoms and privacy rights, while supporters often frame their arguments as pro-business. Proof-of-vaccination requirements, they say, would allow struggling businesses to resume operations after months of being shut down.

But are businesses themselves actually on board with the idea? It turns out that, in many cases, not so much.

TVO.org speaks with Dan Kelly, president and CEO of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, about the feedback he’s getting from his members — and why vaccine passports are a controversial topic.                                                                                                                                     

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TVO.org: What are you hearing from your members about whether people should be required to prove they’ve been vaccinated?

Dan Kelly: The main application that one thinks of when vaccine passports are discussed is for international tourism. And we have a lot of members that that depend on international tourists to make a living. There are all sorts of resorts across Canada, particularly as the summer months approach, that are saying, “Okay, well, am I going to be able to serve anybody from outside of Canada? You know, I'd be happy if I could get some fully vaccinated Americans to come to the province to be able to serve them too.”

But I will say, I made some comments, some of which were positive, about different applications for vaccine passports across Canada. And I have to tell you, I was unprepared for the avalanche of negative comments that would elicit from many, many other small-business owners who are horrified with the prospect of some form of vaccine credential for a variety of reasons.

I think there's a big, big gap between using the vaccine credential for international-tourism purposes and using it in domestic applications.

TVO.org: Why were so many of your members against the idea? 

Kelly: For a whole host of reasons. One is the same reason why any Canadian, not just a business owner, would be upset with the idea. And that is creating two tiers of rights for different Canadians — those who choose to be vaccinated, and those who do not. Issue number two would be just the practical reality of being able to effectively screen using a credential that really hasn't actually been issued to anyone just yet.

TVO.org asked its viewers and readers for their thoughts on vaccine passports for travel purposes, and discovered a true divide in opinions.

TVO.org: I wonder whether some businesses would be worried about alienating customers by having to screen them.

Kelly: Sure. A business works really hard to get somebody to come into their location. And the last thing you're going to want to do is to turn a paying customer away. You don't want to be the person in a position to enforce either a government-imposed policy or a policy that the businesses adopted.

But the reason that [the vaccine-credential idea] was of appeal to some business owners is, for many, they're looking for an alternative approach to complete lockdown. Many in the events industry are telling me they really don't think there's going to be anything until 2022. They could lose two years of business.

TVO.org: Many of your members are clearly against the idea of requiring proof of vaccination. Do you imagine that might change with another lockdown?

Kelly: I don't know. I think there was more worry about this than I had expected. I think that this is touching on a very tricky issue for a lot of business owners. One of the hottest questions we're getting is not vaccine passports, but vaccination policies for an employment situation: Should you as an employer be able to require your employees to show proof of vaccination in order to come into work?

Vaccines bring up a whole host of issues for business owners. It is a very complicated and nuanced discussion. And passions are super high in both directions.

This interview has been condensed and edited for length and clarity.

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