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The good, the bad and the abusive: Businesses report variety of experiences with vaccine card program

·4 min read
A server takes an order from patrons at a restaurant in downtown Vancouver, British Columbia on Tuesday, June 22, 2021.  (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
A server takes an order from patrons at a restaurant in downtown Vancouver, British Columbia on Tuesday, June 22, 2021. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

Six weeks into the B.C. vaccine card program, the assistant general manager of the province's biggest stadium said it's been a resounding success.

"We're seeing a lot of guests coming into the venue feeling really confident that they're protected in the space," said Jenna Visram of B.C. Place. "They can enjoy live entertainment and live events again in a safe manner and they're happy to be here."

As of this week, patrons at non-essential establishments such as dine-in restaurants, gyms or movie theatres will need to provide proof of two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.

The province's proof-of-vaccination program was announced in August and started rolling out Sept. 13, when customers were required to have one dose of vaccine. Since then, business owners are reporting a variety of different experiences dealing with the program, their customers and enforcement.

B.C. Place has invested in additional personnel. And they're seeing results.

"We're in a really, unique setting here where we have only approximately 90 minutes at most to get in 10,000-plus fans," said Visram. "So yes, we have definitely had to bring in more staff, but we've been really creative in the way that we've deployed people."

JAMES MULLEDER/CBC
JAMES MULLEDER/CBC

At a recent CFL game, only one guest in approximately 12,000 was turned away for not having the appropriate proof of vaccination.

Other, smaller venues are feeling the weight of enforcement more acutely.

Inez Cook, the owner of Salmon n' Bannock restaurant in Vancouver's Fairview neighbouhood, says policing the vaccine card program is a lot to ask of a small business.

"You need to have extra staffing to take care of that and it is causing additional stress on our already short-staffed industry."

Mostly, she said, her clientele has been OK with the extra step.

"Some people tried to sneak in one day and we had to get them to leave, unfortunately. But other than that, generally speaking, the people have been pretty understanding."

For some establishments though, interactions have escalated to harassment and abuse.

Justin Tisdall is the owner of Beetbox and Juke Fried Chicken restaurants in Vancouver. He's in favour of the vaccine card program.

"Anything that's for public safety is probably the best step forward especially during a pandemic," he said. "It's great to see how proactive B.C.'s been in trying to get people back to whatever that new normal is."

But the rollout has at times been difficult.

Tisdall said some patrons are upset when they have to show proof of vaccination, and his staff bears the brunt of abusive interactions.

"I get it. The province can't put someone in every restaurant. But the fact that it's 100 per cent our responsibility and should we not follow this we face strict repercussions, that's a bit challenging ... Our team has faced verbal abuse, racism. No one's been physically assaulted yet, but definitely people are animated to that point where it can escalate very quickly."

According to information provided by regional health authorities, closure orders due to non-compliance have been rare.

Northern Health, Vancouver Coastal Health, Fraser Health and Interior Health have all reported issuing closure orders to one business each due to non-compliance with the proof-of-vaccination order.

Island Health said that between Sept. 13 and Oct. 8, it did not issue closure orders, but said it issued two warning letters due to non-compliance with proof of vaccination.

For some businesses, the B.C. Vaccine Card program is now just the cost of doing business.

Darin Graham, owner of Boardwalk Cafe and Games in Abbotsford, says that the rollout has been generally good and most people have been understanding and compassionate.

"We do the same thing when it comes to verifying someone's age for buying alcohol. And that doesn't bother us. We understand that for having a liquor licence that's our responsibility. And now, this is our responsibility too. It doesn't really bother me that we have to check. The process is really quick. The app verifies things really quickly, and we're used to it now. It's just become a part of the process."

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