Just days after British Columbia announced plans to require a proof of COVID-19 vaccination to access certain non-essential services and activities, some businesses are already vowing to defy the mandate.
“We just don’t want to be the ones to enforce something where people feel like their privacy rights are being infringed on,” Stephanie Herring, co-owner of Esquimalt’s Sunnyside Café, told Global News.
“For us to have to ask people to show something is only going to cause confrontation and we don’t want to put our staff in that position either.”
Herring and her business partner Brendan Marshall say they are “definitely not” anti-vaxxers, but that they feel like they’ve been put in an unfair position by the ‘vaccine passport’ plan.
Since the pair posted their opposition to the mandate on Wednesday, they say they’ve been bombarded with support.
“We feel that a patron’s vaccine status is their personal information, their right to choose what they do with their body,” Marshall said.
“If they want to provide it, fine, but for those who don’t want to provide the info, vaxxed or unvaxxed, we feel that is their personal choice.”
In Kelowna, the local chamber of commerce has asked the province to delay the rollout and give businesses more time to determine how they can enforce the mandate.
“We believe the government has set a timeframe that might be unrealistic because there is so much ground to cover,” Kelowna Chamber of Commerce executive director Dan Rogers said.
In just two days, a Facebook group dedicated to maintaining a list of B.C. businesses opposing vaccine passports has attracted more than 65,000 members.
The page lists scores of businesses across the province, many of whom claim the passport system is unconstitutional, or that denying service to unvaccinated people amounts to discrimination.
While vaccination status is not considered a protected class in Canada, such as race or gender, the fact that the passport program does not include exemptions for people who cannot be immunized has raised concerns.
Earlier this week, the BC Civil Liberties Association described it as “arbitrary and illegal.”
Laura Track, a lawyer with the B.C. Human Rights Clinic, told CKNW’s Mike Smyth Show she believes the program could be vulnerable to a legal challenge.
“A legal challenge by someone who simply objects to vaccinations or doesn’t want to get vaccinated? I think the prospect of the success of that sort of legal challenge is low,” she said.
“But the fact that this policy will apply across the board to people with disabilities and other legitimate reasons for being unable to get vaccinated, in my mind, does make it vulnerable to a legal challenge — and I expect that we will see one brought forward.”
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has acknowledged those concerns, but defended the program by saying it was both temporary, and applied only to discretionary activities such as dining out or going to a sports game.
“This is a temporary measure that is getting us through a risky period, where we know that people who are unvaccinated are at greater risk of both contracting and spreading this virus,” Henry said.
The province says fully vaccinated people, who now represent nearly seven in 10 British Columbians, accounted for just 17.5 per cent of cases in the past week, and 13.6 per cent of hospitalizations in the past two weeks.
That gap becomes more stark when viewed on a per-capita basis. Unvaccinated British Columbians accounted for 199.5 cases per 100,000 people, while fully vaccinated people accounted for just 24.6.
Back at the Sunnyside Café, Marshall and Herring say they’re prepared to stick to their guns when it comes to ignoring the passport program.
Asked if they were prepared to face fines over their position, Herring said they’d “cross that bridge when we get to it.”
“Right now we’re just hoping it doesn’t get to that point, hoping that enough people speak up, and figure out a better way of doing it,” she said.
-With files from Kylie Stanton
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.