This is a summary, written by members of the CITF Secretariat, of:

Thomas B, Flood CM, Krishnamurthy V, Tanner R, Wilson K. Vaccine Ins and Outs: An Exploration of the Legal Issues Raised by Vaccine Passports. C.D. Howe Institute. 2021 July 29.
The results and/or conclusions contained in the research do not necessarily reflect the views of all CITF members.

A CITF-funded study, published by the C.D. Howe Institute, underscored that vaccine passports are aimed at protecting unvaccinated people or people who cannot be vaccinated from the risk of serious illness from COVID-19. The authors found that they are not intended to exclude people based on stereotypes, or discount the interests of groups based on race, national or ethnic origin, citizenship, colour, religion, sex, age, or mental or physical disability. Their primary protective benefit, they argued, is not for the vaccinated population, which faces a much lower risk of serious illness.

Key messages:

  • A vaccine passport certifies that the bearer has received specific vaccines. While vaccine passports present complex legal and ethical questions, delay and inaction have costs in the form of prolonged public health lockdowns that disproportionately burden vulnerable or marginalized populations.
  • The Canadian Council of Parliamentary Ombudsman published a guidance document on the use of vaccine passports in the public sector that outlines fairness principles that must be met.
  • It is unclear whether governments would have some legal obligation under Section 15 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to regulate how vaccine passports are used by private actors.
  • A well-designed vaccine passport regime that is backed by an equitable vaccine distribution scheme would likely withstand a Charter challenge.

Nonetheless, it is important to consider how passports should be designed (to ensure privacy and data security) and rolled out in the context of Canadian federalism and fragmented jurisdiction over healthcare and public health.