Calgary

This is how proof of COVID-19 vaccination could work in Alberta

As Canada works to develop a vaccine credential, questions are being raised about when Alberta businesses and venues may ask for proof of immunization. 

Privacy commissioner explains when you can and can't be asked to show proof

Requiring proof of vaccination to receive services or enter a business runs into problems with privacy laws, commissioner says. (Leah Hennel/AHS)

As Canada works to develop a vaccine credential, questions are being raised about when Alberta businesses and venues may ask for proof of immunization. 

Alberta's privacy commissioner told CBC News that while there are instances when you might be asked to show a vaccine certificate, an organization can't compel you to. 

Voluntary discounts or complimentary products (like Cold Garden's free beer program for people who got their jabs) are relatively straightforward, commissioner Jill Clayton said. 

"Things start to get a little bit more complicated if a business wants to collect vaccine status and potentially deny entry or deny services to an individual based on their vaccine status," she said. 

"If [a vaccine is] not necessary to allow somebody to shop in your store, for example, then you're not going to be able to require them to provide proof."

Premier Jason Kenney's office said the government has no intention of creating a vaccine passport — like a digital or paper certificate — and that the typical record of immunization used for other shots would be the extent of what is issued. 

"We've made it absolutely clear that we will not be facilitating so-called vaccine passports," Kenney said during a recent Facebook town hall.

The commissioner says she would expect to see an increase in privacy complaints if people start getting denied entry to establishments because of vaccination status. Proof of vaccination is categorized as personal information under the province's privacy laws. 

"What other kinds of solutions are there rather than proof of vaccines? So if you have previously allowed individuals into a store based on social distancing and hand sanitizing and those kinds of controls, then why would it be necessary now to have proof of vaccine data," Clayton said. 

Privacy, equity concerns 

Her office recently released guidance for Alberta businesses that are considering asking for proof of vaccination. 

Under Alberta's privacy laws, businesses can't require an individual to provide proof of vaccination to eat at a restaurant or enter a store, unless that information is required to meet the organization's purpose. And they're required to provide notice for the reason the information is being collected. 

Privacy commissioners from across Canada released a joint statement in May on vaccine passports, urging policy-makers to tread carefully. 

"While this may offer substantial public benefit, it is an encroachment on civil liberties that should be taken only after careful consideration," it says. 

A chance for normalcy

The Business Council of Alberta is calling for a non-mandatory vaccine certificate program and looking for the province to co-operate with the federal government. 

"While many say it's an infringement upon rights and freedoms, I would argue that it actually enables us to get our freedom back by being able to demonstrate that we have been vaccinated," said council president Adam Legge. 

"I think as we begin to get into more of the large-scale things like concerts and events and hockey games, for people to feel confident going back into those larger venues, I think that some demonstration the people in there are of a similar vaccinated state will be increasingly important." 

Any passport needed for international travel would be handled at the federal level and is not a provincial decision.

Vaccine passports came up during a recent premiers' call with the prime minister. The leaders spoke about efforts to develop credentials to facilitate international travel, and there were discussions about privacy concerns and provincial jurisdiction. 

"These efforts are unfolding in close collaboration with international partners, provinces and territories, public health officials and an array of other stakeholders. This credential, which will be issued by the Government of Canada, will help Canadians travel internationally again when it is safe for them to do so," said a statement from the federal citizenship and immigration minister's office sent to CBC News. 

There is no rollout date yet for those credentials.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Elise von Scheel is CBC Calgary's politics reporter and the producer of the West of Centre podcast. You can get in touch with her at elise.von.scheel@cbc.ca.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?

now