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Rights group eyes suit over Ontario COVID-19 vaccine passport

Friday, September 03, 2021 @ 7:07 AM | By Amanda Jerome

On Sept. 1, the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF) announced it would consider challenging Ontario’s new COVID-19 “vaccine passport” system, calling the provincial government’s measures “a blatant and unjustified violation of Charter rights and freedoms.”

“The Justice Centre is deeply concerned about the increasing trend of authoritarian laws in the name of public safety, and is carefully reviewing the new laws and considering challenging these laws in court,” said Jorge Pineda, a JCCF staff lawyer, in a statement.

A JCCF release noted that s. 7 of the Charter “guarantees protection of ‘life, liberty and security of the person.’ ”

“Coercing Ontarians to inject COVID vaccines which are still undergoing human trials, or submit to any other drug or medical treatment, interferes with bodily autonomy, an interest that is protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” explained the release.

“The government continues to test the limits of Ontarians’ tolerance for the rollback of their long-standing rights and liberties,” said Pineda.

“However, Canadian laws protect individual liberty, and the pandemic did not change that. It will be up the courts to decide whether the Charter’s protection of life, liberty and security of the person will ultimately triumph,” he added.

Pineda also stressed that “[V]accine passports are a blatant and unjustified violation of Charter rights and freedoms.”

“These new regulations impact the choice that Ontarians have over their personal bodily autonomy, they stigmatize the unvaccinated, and they strip away the choice of business owners to decide how they wish to conduct their business,” he added.

On Sept. 1, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced that as of Sept. 22, proof of COVID-19 vaccination would be required for some services, including restaurants and bars; nightclubs; meeting and event spaces; sporting facilities and gyms; sporting events; casinos, bingo halls and gaming establishments; concerts, music festivals, theatres and cinemas; strip clubs, bathhouses and sex clubs; and racing venues.

“Based on the latest evidence and best advice, COVID-19 vaccine certificates give us the best chance to slow the spread of this virus while helping us to avoid further lockdowns. If you haven’t received your first or second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, please do so today,” the premier said in a statement.

According to the JCCF, the “vaccine passport was made possible by a far-reaching amendment to the regulations under the Reopening Ontario Act, which is the Act that now governs most COVID-19 related restrictions and mandates in the province.”

“This sweeping amendment was made on Thursday, August 26 and provides the chief medical officer with new extraordinary powers, including the power to require any organization, including churches and other places of worship, to deny service to the non-vaccinated,” the JCCF’s release explained.

The JCCF stressed that “[V]accine passports also violate the principles of equal treatment under the law protected under the Charter.”

“Individuals who have not been vaccinated for a variety of reasons including religious belief, creed, and medical issues will now be segregated and their participation in society will become limited to what is deemed ‘essential’ by the government,” its release noted.

JCCF staff lawyer, Sayeh Hassan, said in a statement that there is “already enough fear, tension and division in our society. Instead of bringing people together and attempting to alleviate the fear, the government has chosen to mandate further oppressive measures that will only serve to further divide and polarize Ontario.”

“We have seen the impact of segregation of certain factions of populations in history and how those incremental steps to segregate have led to the loss of freedom of many in those populations. This is a dangerous precedent to set in a free and democratic society where people are considered equal and protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” she added.

When the new provincial measures were announced, Christine Elliott, Ontario’s deputy premier and minister of health, said “[W]e know vaccines provide the best protection against COVID-19 and the delta variant.”

“To protect the health and well-being of Ontarians, our government will offer one more tool to encourage even more Ontarians to receive the vaccine and provide further protection to fully vaccinated Ontarians as they safely enjoy activities with their loved ones and support their local businesses,” she explained in a statement.

According to a government release, Ontario will develop an “enhanced vaccine certificate, as well as a verification app to allow businesses to read the QR code, [which] will be available beginning October 22.” Until that time, Ontarians will need to provide proof of vaccination “along with photo ID to access certain public settings and facilities.”

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