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Editor’s column: Who’s willing to enforce B.C.’s vaccine passport rules?

While in theory B.C.'s new vaccine passport system makes sense and may prove effective, the problem is enforcement, writes Richmond News editor Eve Edmonds.
example of digital COVID vaccine passport
The BC vaccine card came into effect this week.

The notion of a vaccine passport (or card as our provincial government is calling it) made sense to me when it was first proposed.

Given that we can’t physically hold people down and give them the jab, some kind of document proving one’s vaccinated seemed like an effective motivator.

If suddenly one’s life became seriously restricted — you couldn’t dine in a restaurant, attend a concert, get on a plane — hopefully, you’d figure it’s not worth it and go do the right thing. If not, then at least I’d know that when I’m at a restaurant or on a plane, I’m only among other vaccinated folks.

I also thought people would be more amenable to the idea of a private business or an  independent organization having the right to decide who gets into their establishment and who doesn’t.

At the time, I didn’t realize the government would mandate businesses to check their patrons’ cards. Granted, from a public health perspective, it makes sense that they do. This is a contagion after all, it’s not good enough to say, “each to their own.” Also, setting a rule for all businesses may help create a more level playing field and not leave those trying to do what’s best for everyone at an economic disadvantage.

But while all this makes sense, now that the card is actually here and being implemented, I’m reminded of the expression “belling the cat.”

The phrase comes from an old fable where a group of mice hold a meeting to figure out how to deal with a marauding cat. One of the mice comes up with the clever idea of putting a bell on the cat so they could hear it coming. Everyone agrees this is an excellent solution. The next question is, who’s going to do it — and there’s the problem.

In the end, no one volunteers and the cat continues to maraud. In other words, a good idea is only as good as it is doable.

Back to the vaccine cards, in theory the cards make sense, and they still may prove effective, but the problem is enforcement.  Already we’ve reported on a number of Steveston businesses that are stating publicly they won’t comply with the mandate.

I’m not exactly sure whether their refusal is because they simply don’t like government telling them what to do or because it’s impractical and they don’t want to put staff in that position. If it’s the latter, I have some sympathy. Should a 16-year-old server be expected to confront an angry anti-vaxxer?

Granted, staff are already expected to enforce a variety of company rules and regulations. However, few of those policies get people as riled as vaccine mandates.

But regardless why, if a business defies the order, who’s going to do what about it?

When it came to previous health orders, such as wearing masks and limiting capacity, enforcement officers could walk in, take a look around and act accordingly.

That’s not so easy with the card. Are they going to check every diner in a restaurant, every client at the salon? Also, will these checks be random or complaints based?

We put these questions to the Ministry of Health Tuesday and still haven’t heard back. We contacted the RCMP on Monday asking the same. Wednesday we were told the Richmond detachment couldn’t comment and E Division (which oversees the Lower Mainland) was “working on messaging” and probably wouldn’t get back to us by deadline.

I suspect we’re seeing such reticence because in fact the government has little recourse or resources to enforce the mandate.

That said, “belling the cat” also refers to situations where significant obstacles are overcome. Most businesses and organizations will comply with the order and that in itself should help curb this fourth wave, even if legal enforcement is sketchy.

At least that’s the version I’m going with, if for no other reason than to maintain some optimism.