Ontario vaccine certificates lead to few enforcement incidents on first days

TORONTO – Ontario Police and other enforcement agencies are reporting few incidents in the early days of proving the provincial COVID-19 vaccination policy as some companies have publicly pledged to ignore the rules.

Most of the incidents reported to police since Wednesday, when the new vaccination card system went into effect, involved people who refused to provide evidence of vaccination.

Peel regional police said Thursday that they had received seven calls about customers who did not provide proof of vaccination – five incidents in gyms and two in grocery stores.

Police provided minimal details of what went on in the interactions, but noted two reported cases of customers entering without proof of vaccination before police arrived. In the other five, they left “without incident” after the officers arrived on site.

Guelph police said officers responded to a report mentioning a man in a restaurant who refused to provide proof of vaccination and refused to leave the restaurant.

Police said the man had already left when officers arrived, but noted that in the future, anyone who does not obey the rules may be removed under the trespassing law.

Toronto police said they had received “multiple” calls related to the policy that they directed to 311 “to report no material issues”.

Other police officers interviewed by The Canadian Press said they were unaware of any tickets on the first day of the Vaccination Certification Policy.

Police have largely stated that they will respond to situations where public safety is at risk, but have not verified compliance with any individual.

Fines are on the table for companies and customers who break the rules, but officials said early enforcement will focus on educating people about the changes.

Compliance checks are to be carried out by the provincial and community inspectors. Only a few incidents had been reported there by Thursday.

A Toronto city spokesman said no tickets were issued by officials.

Health officials also said that issues that require enforcement have not yet emerged.

A spokeswoman for Huron Perth Public Health said there was no information that could be shared this early in the implementation of the policy. Health units for Windsor-Essex County, Niagara Region and Brant County said they were not aware of any enforcement as of Thursday, with Brant County having noted a recent intake of vaccination bookings.

The North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit said it had responded to “very few complaints” about the vaccination certificate program without receiving any fines by Thursday afternoon. A statement said it had received many inquiries from companies to ensure they were complying with the program.

Despite lax enforcement in the early days of the directive, several business owners in the province have publicly stated that they have no intention of requiring proof of vaccination at all, or just serve them to take away to avoid demand.

Those who oppose the policy have connected through social media to share the names of companies who claim they are disobeying it.

A Facebook group called Ontario Businesses Against Health Pass had more than 136,000 members as of Friday, although it is unclear how many of them are business owners. It described itself as a space for people “to compile a list of companies that believe an Ontario health passport is unconstitutional”.

A similar Facebook group, focused on businesses in the Windsor, Ontario area, had attracted more than 12,000 members by Friday. Discussions highlight companies claiming not to enforce the vaccine directive and others calling for recommendations of new places to patronize after being turned away from their local locations.

Group administrator Krystle Bernauer claimed hundreds of companies are involved in the group.

“Unfortunately, we have the feeling that the government has put us in a position in which we must discriminate and divide one another,” said Bernauer, who owns a cleaning company, in an interview.

A Mississauga, Ontario gym that opened during previous pandemic closings has also said it will not verify vaccination status.

“We are NOT separated or discriminated against,” said a post on September 20th on the Huf Gym’s Facebook page.

Another website, titled “NoPass List,” lists companies across Canada “that do not discriminate based on their medical choices.”

Premier Doug Ford has repeatedly said he was reluctant to implement the policy but decided to do so temporarily to avoid reinstating lockdown measures.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on September 24, 2021.

With files from Noushin Ziafati

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