Ontario Premier Doug Ford has unveiled a vaccination certification system that will require people show proof they have received a COVID-19 vaccine before entering some indoor spaces.
The system will go into effect on Sept. 22 and will be required for entry to indoor spaces, including restaurants, bars, meeting and events spaces, gyms, casinos, concerts, music festivals and theatres. The full list of indoor settings is available on the Government of Ontario website. The requirements do not apply to outdoor settings, including patios.
To begin, the province will require people show vaccine receipts that they received along with photo identification, but the plan is to shift to a registered QR code system that can be displayed on a phone by Oct. 22.
"This is what we have to do right now in the face of a fourth wave because these certificates are necessary to keep our hospitals safe and to avoid another lockdown," Ford said at a press conference Wednesday.
"This is the right decision for our kids, for our businesses and all Ontarians."
Retail stores, salons, and places of worship will not fall under the vaccine system. Employees at the indoor spaces on the list will not be required to provide proof of vaccination.
The province has been facing growing pressure in recent weeks to introduce a proof-of-vaccination system, as cases of COVID-19 rise in the province and the highly contagious Delta variant raises concerns about a potential fourth wave.
Ford had previously resisted calls to introduce a vaccine passport system, telling reporters "we're not going to have a split society." Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott had also previously said that the vaccine receipt was enough proof of vaccination and that so-called "smart card" systems may be susceptible to fraud.
On Wednesday, Ford said that he – along with other provincial leaders – had been pushing the federal government to introduce a national vaccine passport, but the province could no longer wait for the government.
Questions remain for businesses
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), which represents 95,000 small businesses across the country, said its members are divided when it comes to proof of vaccination systems.
Ryan Mallough, the CFIB's senior director of provincial affairs for Ontario, said businesses still have many questions about the province's system, including regarding how enforcement will work, who is responsible for potential fraud, whether any training will be provided for businesses, and if there are protections for businesses against potential human rights challenges or privacy lawsuits.
"We do need some clarify around those issues and some additional financial support," Mallough said.
"This is a new role that businesses and their employees are being asked to take on in terms of becoming vaccination screeners for the province... After 18-months of lockdowns and significant restrictions, the funding for that isn't necessarily there."
Mallough also said the CFIB would like to see capacity restrictions that are currently in place for many businesses lifted alongside the introduction of the vaccine certification system.
While the provincial system won't go into effect until later this month, some businesses, organizations and post-secondary institutions have taken matters into their own hands and are requiring proof of vaccination.
Some industry groups, such as the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, have urged the province to implement a vaccine certificate system that it says would help prevent another province-wide lockdown. Daniel Safayeni, the vice president of policy at the Ontario Chamber, said in an interview that the group is supportive of the vaccine certification system, but that the province could have provided additional guidance when it comes to workplace vaccination policies.
"We are concerned that a lack of guidance is actually going to disproportionately burden small businesses with the task of creating, implementing and enforcing their own employee vaccination policies and that's ultimately going to lead to a patchwork of inconsistent policies across the province," Safayeni said.
While the province's leaders had resisted implementing a proof-of-vaccination system, a recent Yahoo/Maru Public Opinion poll showed that a majority of Canadians were in favour of such a system. According to the poll, 77 per cent of those surveyed were in favour of having an identification system that shows whether someone is fully vaccinated or not.
Quebec's vaccine passport system went into effect today, requiring customers to show proof of vaccination in order to access non-essential businesses and events.
Alicja Siekierska is a senior reporter at Yahoo Finance Canada. Follow her on Twitter @alicjawithaj.