Ontario enforcement agencies report few incidents in early days of COVID-19 vaccine certificates

WATCH ABOVE: Sean O'Shea got reaction from business owners on the day Ontario's COVID-19 vaccine certificate system went into effect.

TORONTO — Ontario police forces and other enforcement bodies are reporting few incidents in the early days of the province’s proof of COVID-19 vaccination policy, as some businesses have publicly pledged to ignore the rules.

Most of the incidents reported to police since Wednesday, when the new vaccine certificate system went into effect, involved people who refused to show proof of vaccination.

Peel Regional Police said Thursday it had received seven calls about customers not showing proof of vaccination _ five incidents at gyms and two at food establishments.

The police force provided minimal details on what happened in the interactions but noted the customers who entered without showing proof of vaccination left before police arrived in two reported cases. In the other five, they left “without incident” after officers arrived on site.

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Guelph Police said officers responded to one report involving a man at a restaurant who “was refusing to show proof of vaccination and refusing to leave.”

The police force said the man had left by the time officers arrived, but noted that in future, people who don’t comply with the rules can be removed under the Trespass to Property Act.

Toronto police said it received “several” calls related to the policy, which it directed to 311, “with no significant issues to report.”

Other police forces surveyed by The Canadian Press said they weren’t aware of any tickets issued in the first day of the vaccine certificate policy.

Police forces have largely said they will respond to situations where public safety is threatened but won’t be checking for individual compliance.

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Fines are on the table for businesses and patrons that violate the rules, but officials have said early enforcement will focus on education about the changes.

Compliance checks are to be done by provincial and municipal inspectors. As of Thursday, few incidents had been reported there, either.

A spokesman for the City of Toronto said no tickets had been issued by by-law officers.

Public Health Units also said issues requiring enforcement hadn’t yet come up.

A spokeswoman for the Huron Perth Public Health said there was no information to share so early in the policy’s implementation. Health units covering Windsor-Essex County, Niagara Region and Brant County said they weren’t aware of any enforcement as of Thursday, with Brant County noting a recent uptake in vaccination bookings.

TheNorth Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit said it had responded to “very few complaints” about the vaccine certificate program, with no fines issued as of Thursday afternoon. It said in a statement that many requests have come in from businesses looking to ensure they are complying with the program.

Despite lax enforcement in the early days of the policy, several business owners in the province have publicly declared that they don’t intend to ask for proof of vaccination at all, or will only serve take-out to avoid having to ask.

Those who oppose the policy have connected over social media to exchange the names of businesses that claim they aren’t adhering to it.

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

A similar Facebook group focused on businesses in the Windsor, Ont., area had attracted more than 12,000 members as of Friday. Discussion posts highlight businesses that claim to not be enforcing the vaccine policy, and others request recommendations for new places to patronize after being turned away from their local spots.

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

“Unfortunately, we feel the government has put us in a position where we have to discriminate and divide one another,” Bernauer, who said she owns a cleaning company, said in an interview.

A gym in Mississauga, Ont., that opened during previous pandemic shutdowns has also proclaimed it will not check for vaccination status.

“We will NOT Segregated nor Discriminated,” a Sept. 20 post on the Huf Gym’s Facebook page read.

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Another website titled “NoPass List” names businesses across Canada “who do not discriminate based on medical choice.”

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

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

— With files from Noushin Ziafati

© 2021 The Canadian Press

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