The following resolution was adopted by the Central Committee of Socialist Action in Oct. 2021
As Canadians suffer a delta-fueled fourth wave, various provinces are implementing a vaccine passport. Motivation for a vaccine passport stems from a need to increase vaccine coverage and to limit spread of Covid-19 by restricting access of non-vaccinated people, who are more likely to be infected, to non-essential services. As of Sept. 11, 2021, nearly 85% of Canadians over the age of 12 have received at least one dose, which represents nearly 75% of the total population. Vaccine coverage varies substantially by province. While the percentage of people vaccinated in Alberta and Saskatchewan hovers around 66-68%, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador boast vaccination rates of over 80%.
The vaccines available to Canadians are both safe and effective at preventing SARS-CoV-2 infection, hospitalization, and death. In British Columbia, unvaccinated individuals are 17x more likely to be hospitalized for Covid-19 than those who are fully vaccinated. In the entirety of Canada, the rate of new Covid-19 cases is 12x higher in unvaccinated individuals than in fully-vaccinated individuals. While vaccines are not enough to eliminate Covid-19 from the human population, we support vaccination programs, including vaccine passports, as a strategy for mitigating the suffering of workers, who bear the brunt of this pandemic, and other not mutually-exclusive precarious populations, including our unhoused neighbours, disabled people, elderly people, chronically-ill people, and children.
The first provinces to announce and implement a vaccine passport included Quebec (launched Sept. 1), Manitoba (Sept. 3), British Columbia (Sept. 13), and Ontario (Sept. 22), where document asserting that the individual has been vaccinated is required to enter restaurants and bars, cinemas, casinos, and gyms.
Other provinces have followed suit, including Jason Kenney’s United Conservative government in Alberta. Initially, Jason Kenney vowed to never implement a vaccine passport saying, “I believe they would in principle contravene the Health Information Act and also possibly the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.” As of Sept. 20, people living in Alberta, the province with the largest number of active Covid-19 cases, will be required to either show proof of vaccination or a negative Covid-19 test before accessing non-essential businesses and services. Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia will also implement a vaccine passport in later September, early October. In Prince Edward Island, a vaccine passport allows people returning from outside the Atlantic bubble to skip an otherwise mandatory quarantine.
Additionally, all federal employees will be required to be fully vaccinated by the end of September. The Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) supports this mandatory vaccination program while also expecting that the “government to continue consulting with unions on the implementation of their vaccination requirements to safeguard our members’ right to privacy and ensure that their human rights are respected.” The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC) also supports a mandatory vaccination program for federally-regulated employees.
In Ontario, employees working in hospitals, schools, and child-care settings will need to be either fully vaccinated or undergo regular Covid-19 screening. New Brunswick enacted a similar policy for health-care workers and school staff. Manitoba, Alberta, British Columbia, and Quebec now require that all healthcare workers be vaccinated. Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador so far refuse to mandate vaccines for health-care workers or teachers. The cities of Toronto, Vaughn, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Calgary, are also mandating vaccines for employees.
In provinces with no vaccination mandate for health-care workers, unions demand such programs. The Saskatchewan Union of Nurses (SUN) called for mandatory Covid-19 immunization for all health-care workers in late August.
Provinces like Quebec and British Columbia have seen a modest uptick in rates of vaccination after announcing their vaccine passport programs. The overall impact on the rate of viral spread remains to be determined.
Reactionary far-right groups are fighting against vaccine passports, decrying it as an invasion of privacy and as an unfair limitation of personal freedoms. To this point, anti-vaccination sentiment is highest in Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party of Canada (PPC). On a wave of anti-vax and anti-lockdown sentiment, the PPC now polls fourth in anticipation of the federal election in Canada on Sept. 20. Their 6.5% polling numbers represent a steep climb compared to the 1.6% of the popular vote they received in the 2019 federal election. In September, amidst provinces announcing their vaccine passports, these reactionary forces began protesting outside of hospitals.
While politicians decry these protests, Socialist Action instead recognizes the need for more than words. We need the organizations representing workers to take the lead and keep our frontline health-care workers safe from reactionary mobs! We need unions to step up — we keep us safe!
While some unions like SUN are fighting for vaccine passports, other unions oppose such policies. This includes the Toronto Police Association, which is not a real union because cops are not workers, and ATU Local 113 (representing Toronto Transit Commission employees). Carlos Santos, President of ATU Local 113, released a statement saying “Local 113 supports the right of every member of Local 113 to make their own informed decisions about their personal health matters, including vaccination. We oppose mandatory vaccination of Local 113 members.”
While ATU Local 113 fails to fight for workplace and worker safety, the federal Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) reminds us that “trade unionists have a moral obligation and social responsibility to protect the collective interests of its members, keep workplaces safe, and to have each other’s backs” while stating that they “support public health measures to increase vaccination rates as an essential means of protecting Canadians’ health and safety and defeating the COVID-19 pandemic. This must be accomplished in a fair, reasonable, transparent, equitable fashion with full consultation and negotiation with unions.”
In the discourse on mandatory vaccination and vaccine passports, the colonial and genocidal nature of Canada needs to be highlighted. While Socialist Action supports vaccines and vaccine passports as necessary tools in the fight against Covid-19, we must also recognize that vaccine hesitancy often emerges from communities with an acute awareness of the history of medical injustice. It is not lost on our Indigenous and marginalized communities that government-backed forced sterilization existed in Canada until the 1970’s, and according to one Senate committee, still occurs among Indigenous people. Yet it is these very same communities that are most likely to benefit from vaccination due to their higher rates of infection. Hence, any mandatory vaccination program must acknowledge these past failures and demonstrate good faith in its efforts to ensure the safety of these communities. Their confidence and trust in the Canadian government and in the medical community is to be earned, not expected.
Vaccine hesitancy also arises from deserved suspicion of a for-profit pharmaceutical industry, which stands to benefit from a prolonged pandemic and Sars-CoV-2 becoming an endemic virus that requires repeated booster shots. Trust in the pharmaceutical sciences can only be bolstered by expropriating the parasites that currently dominate pharmaceutical research and manufacturing in Canada.
- Socialist Action supports the implementation of vaccine passports to restrict access of non-vaccinated people (except for those with medical exemptions or under the age of 12) to non-essential services such as indoor dining, cinemas, concerts, bars, gyms, etc. However, it urges all levels of government to recognize that vaccine passports are only one tool to mitigate the death and immiseration of an already beleaguered population during the pandemic.
- Socialist Action urges unions to reframe the conversation about vaccine passports, so as to focus on the rights of workers to not be exposed to a deadly virus and to a safe workplace more generally. Unions must resist policies that endanger all of their workers for the sake of a recalcitrant few. Furthermore, we contend that unions should continue to demand the removal of any barriers to vaccination and to educate workers on the safety and efficacy of the various COVID-19 vaccines.
- Socialist Action demands that all unions organize active mass visible support for hospital and health-care sector workers and against the anti-mask and anti-vaccine campaigners.
- Socialist Action demands that Federal and Provincial governments take the necessary steps to ensure that workers face as few barriers to vaccination as possible.
- Socialist Action demands that employers, including those that operate in the gig economy, be legally-required to provide at least three paid-sick days to all workers to receive and recover from each dose of Covid-19 vaccine that they receive.
- Socialist Action demands that there should be little-to-no financial, technological, or time-related barriers to obtaining or maintaining a vaccine passport. Employers should be legally required to compensate employees for any such barriers.
- Socialist Action demands that vaccines and vaccine passports be available to all workers, including migrant workers and undocumented workers, in such a manner that does not pose any risk of deportation.
- Socialist Action demands that Federal, Provincial, and Municipal governments invest heavily in culturally-sensitive and community-orientated vaccine strategies, including pop-up clinics, door-to-door vaccination, and enabling family doctors to inoculate their patients.
- Socialist Action demands that the pharmaceutical companies profiting from vaccine production financially compensate all people who suffer adverse side effects from a Covid-19 vaccine.
- Socialist Action demands that workers who lost their job due to not receiving a vaccine still be eligible to received unemployment insurance and other social supports. (Adopted by the Central Committee of Socialist Action on Oct. 25).
- Socialist Action demands that public health policies be decided in an entirely transparent process by public health experts and epidemiologists at arms-length from corporate and government interests.
- Socialist Action reaffirms the following demands:
- We insist that research groups around the world collaborate on research regarding and all life-saving and life-sustaining medications, including a potential COVID-19 vaccine. We demand a no-profit policy concerning life-saving and life-sustaining medications, including any potential COVID-19 vaccine. (adopted June 2020)
- That the government immediately expropriate all domestic pharmaceutical companies, beginning with Sanofi. Bring back the Connaught Labs! (adopted June 2021)
- That Canada no longer honour drug patents, and instead produce generic medications at cost for all who need them. (adopted June 2021)
- That research and development of new drugs be brought under democratic control of doctors, pharmacists, scientists, patients and their advocates. (adopted June 2021)
- That federal investment into drug discovery and manufacturing be increased. (adopted June 2021)
- Decriminalize all drugs. Ensure access to safe-injection sites. Access to free abortion and contraception. (adopted June 2021)
- Provide universal and accessible medical care, dental care, mental health care, vision care, and pharmaceuticals for all living in Canada, including preventative and rehabilitation services. Affordable housing, clean water, and food for all. Guarantee Indigenous people access to clean water, food, decent housing, and specialized centres for treating the ongoing effects of colonial violence. (adopted June 2021)