Online offers of fake documents show it's time for a national vaccination passport: NDP critic

The NDP's health critic is calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government to act quickly to introduce a single, secure, national proof of vaccination after CBC News reported that cybercriminals are offering to sell fake Canadian provincial vaccination certificates online.

Tam says she's aware fake certificates are being offered for sale and is working on a solution

B.C. Minister of Jobs, Economic Recovery and Innovation Ravi Kahlon has his provincial COVID-19 vaccine card scanned by White Spot restaurant general manager Bill Warwick before having breakfast in Delta, B.C., on Wednesday, September 15, 2021. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

NDP MP Don Davies is calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government to act quickly to introduce a single, secure, national proof of vaccination after CBC News reported that cybercriminals are offering to sell fake Canadian provincial vaccination certificates online.

"If the federal government hurried up with a national vaccine passport, it would cut down on the opportunity for forgeries and alternatives as well as provide an effective and efficient standardized and convenient passport for all Canadians," said Davies, the NDP's health critic in the last Parliament.

Davies said the federal government should show more leadership and stop pointing to provincial jurisdiction over health as an excuse not to act.

"Dithering and delaying and dancing on the head of jurisdictional pins is ridiculous at this point," said Davies. "We need a totally secure passport for Canadians and who is more ideally situated to create that than the national government?"

Vancouver Kingsway MP Don Davies says the federal government should introduce a national vaccination passport. (CBC)

Davies said the prospect of fake Canadian vaccination certificates being offered for sale is worrying because it could undermine confidence in the health system.

"We should nip this in the bud. We're seeing early examples of these forgeries ... I think we've got to jump on this now before it becomes a much larger problem," he said.

A CBC News investigation found that sellers online in places like Telegram and the dark web are offering what they claim are fake vaccination certificates for several different Canadian provinces. Sellers also claim to be able to add fake vaccination data to official health department websites — a claim challenged by provincial health departments contacted by CBC News.

CBC News viewed several Telegram channels that claimed to offer vaccination credentials from such sources as the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the United Kingdom's National Health Service (NHS), which could be used by unvaccinated travellers trying to enter Canada.

Experts also warn that offers of fake vaccination certificates can also result in identity theft or ransom demands from cybercriminals.

We're taking steps, Tam says

Andrew MacKendrick, spokesperson for Health Minister Patty Hajdu, said the minister is concerned that fake vaccination certificates might be sold online and said government departments are developing a system to prove immunization.

Theresa Tam, chief public health officer of Canada, said her office is aware of the problem and is working on solutions.

"Provinces will have their own mitigation measures but it is an issue that we're all aware of," Tam told reporters.

Tam said the Public Health Agency of Canada is working with the provinces and territories to find ways to standardize proof-of-vaccination documents, including electronic ones.

The agency is also working with other countries to develop an international standard for proof of vaccination, Tam said.

"We've been working very hard at the international level with other partners and the WHO, other countries including the G7, the G20 and others on the proof of vaccination for international travel," Tam said.

"So all of that is actually in the works and part of that will be on this credentialing approach for mutual recognition, but also [building] into that certain features to minimize fraudulent copies or fraudulent attempts at replication."

Tam suggested the government could also try to shut down the sites offering the fake certificates for sale.

"It may be a question that we will take back to other government departments as well, because I think there are ways that other departments can deal with some sites which are essentially providing these false certificates," she said. "I think every country needs to examine the tools which can de-escalate or shut down such sites and practices."

Tam said fines for using fake proof-of-vaccination documents to enter Canada can go as high as $750,000.

Provincial penalties are much lower. For example, fines in Manitoba for entering a non-essential business when you're not vaccinated are nearly $1,300, while in Ontario lying to a business about your vaccination status can net you a  $750 ticket.

Elizabeth Thompson can be reached at elizabeth.thompson@cbc.ca


Elizabeth Thompson

Senior reporter

Award-winning reporter Elizabeth Thompson covers Parliament Hill. A veteran of the Montreal Gazette, Sun Media and iPolitics, she currently works with the CBC's Ottawa bureau, specializing in investigative reporting and data journalism. She can be reached at: elizabeth.thompson@cbc.ca.

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