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N.S. privacy commissioner calls for careful approach to possible vaccine passports

·3 min read
Nova Scotia Information and Privacy Commissioner Tricia Ralph wants the highest levels of privacy protection to be a priority in any COVID-19 immunization certification. (CBC - image credit)
Nova Scotia Information and Privacy Commissioner Tricia Ralph wants the highest levels of privacy protection to be a priority in any COVID-19 immunization certification. (CBC - image credit)

As the provincial and federal governments work on a national program that shows proof of COVID-19 immunization, Nova Scotia's information and privacy commissioner says any so-called vaccine passports must have the highest levels of privacy protection.

"They can be a valuable tool for Canadians, but my concern is they be done the right way," said Tricia Ralph. "My concern is they be developed in a way that would not collect too much information or disclose too much information than is really necessary."

Ralph wrote to the Nova Scotia government Tuesday, calling for a privacy impact assessment.

She was part of a joint statement issued by privacy commissioners across the country last month, in which all pressed for the privacy of people to be front and centre in any program being considered.

Ombudsmen across Canada issued a similar guidance document, with part of the focus being on fairness and making sure people who are not vaccinated still get access to services.

CBC
CBC

"What we're saying is there should be alternative methods of obtaining a service because for whatever reason some people are not able to take the vaccine and some will probably refuse to take it," Bill Smith, the ombudsman of Nova Scotia and president of the Canadian Council of Parliamentary Ombudsman, told CBC News.

"That shouldn't mean that they be denied a service."

Potential for human rights concerns, says privacy commissioner

While Ralph said most people will understand the need to show proof of vaccine for international travel as a public health safeguard, she thinks people will feel differently if they are asked to produce immunization proof by local businesses.

"Businesses should be asking, 'Why do I need this? Why do I need to know whether or not someone has a vaccine passport and what am I going to do with that information?'" Ralph said, adding being denied entry would raise human rights issues.

With vaccination rates ahead of schedule in the province, the Halifax Chamber of Commerce doesn't think any proof of vaccine is necessary for access to stores, venues or events.

Nova Scotia's Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Robert Strang, recognizes there are lots of issues concerning privacy and equity.

"We certainly don't want to set up two tiers of citizens, one who are vaccinated and have access to all sorts of things and those who aren't able to be vaccinated or don't get vaccinated and are denied those opportunities," he said.

CBC
CBC

If people are asked to prove they've been vaccinated, Strang said it will be up to them to decide what to do.

"That's a personal choice," he said. "Ultimately, that is private personal health information and people should have a choice about whether they provide that or not. It may be that if they choose not to provide that there are certain steps they have to take."

Nova Scotia is developing plans to validate the vaccination status of people from other provinces when border restrictions are loosened.

"Different provinces are working on different approaches to this and not everybody uses the same system," said Premier Iain Rankin at Tuesday's COVID-19 briefing.

"We have the CANImmunize [app], so ideally everyone would be on the exact same system and we would have it all consistent across the country. But we recognize that we have to have something in place so that we don't just have 100 per cent trust that people are, what they're saying they have at a border, is indeed the truth."

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