A nurse holds up a coronavirus vaccine in Montreal, Quebec, last November. ANDREJ IVANOV (AFP)
The Canadian province of Quebec has already made headlines for its strong measures to deal with the pandemic, but its authorities want to raise the bar. The next step they want to take is to tax the unvaccinated. François Legault, Quebec’s prime minister, pointed out at a press conference on Tuesday that “these people represent a very important burden for the health network”, since they constitute 10% of those eligible to be vaccinated, but occupy 50% of the spaces in intensive care. “They will have to pay a contribution,” Legault said. “I think it’s reasonable for the majority of the population to demand consequences,” he added.
Canada has suffered a considerable increase in infections in recent weeks, mainly due to the impact of the omicron variant. Hospitals care for thousands of patients due to the ravages of covid-19, but a large part of the health personnel has had to be absent when infected. Various services — such as surgeries and biopsies — experience delays. This Wednesday, the country registered 22,617 new cases, 36% of them in Quebec. The French-speaking province was the first in Canada to authorize health workers to return to work despite testing positive, as long as they do not present symptoms of the disease.
Prime Minister Legault said on Thursday that he will submit a bill to the provincial assembly in the coming weeks to open debates on the matter. There are several measures that Legault has taken in the pandemic without going through the assembly, but the issue of the tax will be debated by the deputies. However, his party has a parliamentary majority, so he does not need the support of other forces.
Regarding the amount, he pointed out that “50 or 100 dollars would not be enough” for him. According to calculations by Francis Vailles, a journalist for The Press, the unvaccinated have involved an average cost per day of about one million Canadian dollars (698,000 euros) to the Quebec health in the last month.
It would be the first time that a provision of this type enters into force in America. Although there are European countries that have approved fines for those who are not immunized. Since the beginning of January, Greeks over 60 who are not vaccinated must pay 100 euros per month. “It is not a punishment. It’s a health fee,” Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said. In February, a fine will begin to be applied in Austria, which could reach 3,600 euros, for those over 14 years of age without being vaccinated. Likewise, the Singapore authorities stopped covering the medical expenses of covid-19 from December 8 to unvaccinated patients. In these countries, as provided by the province of Quebec, there is an exception for those who cannot receive the injection for health reasons.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he needs more information about the Quebec government’s plan before making a statement. “Details matter,” he noted. The management of health is a provincial competence, although Trudeau specified that the Quebec tax must comply with the Canada Health Act, a law that guarantees universal access. Health is public in this North American country. Doug Ford, premier of the province of Ontario, said he has a different approach than Legault. In turn, Jason Kenney, Alberta’s prime minister, also marked his distance by stating: “If we continue down that route, then are we going to apply a tax to people with obesity later?” Community organizations in Montreal have expressed that the measure would affect sectors of the population that are already marginalized. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association released a statement calling the initiative “divisive and deeply troubling,” evoking the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Louis-Philippe Lampron, a professor at Laval University and an expert in fundamental rights, comments that this matter could go to court. “It is a major attack on the right to physical integrity. The right to health allows a person to accept or refuse a proposed treatment. For its part, the Government of Quebec must justify the reasons behind this measure, despite the fact that it goes against a fundamental right,” he says. This legal battle, according to Lampron, could be a long one. “It will have to go through different instances and probably reach the Supreme Court of Canada. The Canadian judicial system works on the principle of ex post facto contestation. Once the norm is adopted, it will produce effects. Getting it suspended before a final decision is highly exceptional,” he explains.
Forbidden to visit his son
On the other hand, this Wednesday it was announced that a Quebec individual temporarily lost the right to visit his 12-year-old son also due to vaccination. A provincial Superior Court judge issued the ruling stressing that the father is not vaccinated against covid-19 and opposes the health directives issued by the authorities. It is the first such sentence in Canada.
Quebec has imposed the most severe measures in the country to curb the spread of covid-19. A second curfew went into effect on December 31; a unique order in the country. Schools, cinemas, bars and gyms closed their doors, as well as restaurants (with the exception of takeaway food service). Also, people must present the vaccination passport from January 18 to enter stores that sell alcohol and cannabis. The Québec government wants to extend the measure to other non-essential establishments.
Last October, Quebec announced that health workers should be vaccinated on a mandatory basis. A few weeks later, he annulled this decision criticized by several unions. “In the case of the tax on the unvaccinated, there is not only the possibility of going to court. There are political motives, of legitimacy, that could make the government back down”, says Louis-Philippe Lampron.