Gatineau businesses hope it's easy to include Ontarians in vaccine passport system

Many in the Ottawa-Gatineau region are closely watching how Ontarians will be included in Quebec's vaccine passport system.

How Quebec will verify vaccine status of out-of-province residents still to be announced

A chalkboard sign for a restaurant on Rue Laval in Gatineau, Que., tells customers it's open on July 31, 2021. The Quebec government has yet to announce how out-of-province vaccine status will be acknowledged under their vaccine passport system. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)

Many in the Ottawa-Gatineau region are closely watching how Ontarians will be included in Quebec's vaccine passport system.

If the system is arduous or inefficient it will be a big deal for the region, according to Jean-François Belleau, who is the Quebec director for the Retail Council of Canada. 

"It's very important that commercial exchanges between [the] Ottawa and Gatineau regions can still remain fluid. For restaurants in Gatineau, Ottawa customers are essential," Belleau said. 

As of Sept. 1, Quebec residents who want to go to bars, restaurants, gyms and festivals will need to present a scannable QR code through a smartphone app to prove they've been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. There will be accommodations for those without smartphones. 

The Quebec government has said there will be a system for Ontarians to provide proof of vaccination in Quebec, but what that system will look like has yet to be announced.

The government is looking at allowing Ontarians to register through the same system as Quebecers, but it's also considering other documentation options. 

More details on the app are coming the week of Aug. 23, as are details of how Ontarians will be included, officials said. 

Tight timeline for Gatineau festival 

With details expected only a week before the passports are required, the Gatineau Hot Air Balloon Festival is worried about hiccups in the system. 

The annual festival kicks off on Sept. 2 — one day after the government will require individuals to be fully vaccinated to attend events like these. 

The festival's director Sandra Cloutier said her team has learned to adapt well over the last year and a half, but she wishes they could thoroughly test the system before the event to make sure things run smoothly. 

Cloutier said she doesn't yet know if extra staff will be required to check visitors' vaccination status. 

The Gatineau Hot Air Balloon Festival kicks off one day after Quebec will begin requiring festival attendees to be fully vaccinated. (Vicky Lefebvre/Radio-Canada)

Extra work for businesses 

Stéphane Bisson, president of the Gatineau Chamber of Commerce, said he wants the Quebec government to have a plan to support businesses and organizations like the hot air balloon festival, which are taking on the extra work of verifying customers' vaccine passports. 

Throughout the pandemic, he said many people have left the tourism and restaurant industries for other jobs, and now these businesses will be required to take on this extra work to have customers come back. 

Unvaccinated guests who are turned away from restaurants and gyms won't always be happy about it, he said, and Bisson wants to know if the government will compensate businesses for the added security costs. 

Overall, however, he said he supports the idea of a vaccine passport, in part, because it's caused an uptick in vaccine appointments in the province.

Rocco Rossi, president of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, agrees. 

"If [vaccines] are in fact game changers, tell me how they change the game. Tell me what I get ... Yes, it protects me, it protects people, but then it also means we can go and dine together inside, we can fill a stadium, listen to live music," Rossi said. 

Since returning to normal life is a large incentive to get vaccinated, Rossi said he believes many jurisdictions are trending toward introducing vaccine passports. 

He called on the federal government to create a national system in order to avoid a patchwork across the country.

With files from Claudine Richard

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