MONTREAL — Quebec's legislature will soon be accessible only to people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
The National Assembly announced the new health order requiring vaccine passports for staff, visitors, and journalists on Thursday evening, following a heated debate among the parties.
The rule, as written applies to "political staff, administrative staff of the national assembly, members of the press gallery and visitors" — but does not specifically mention the politicians.
Béatrice Zacharie with the legislature's communications office said in an email that all members of the legislature have stated they’ve been adequately vaccinated against COVID-19.
The governing Coalition Avenir Québec party as well as the Opposition Liberals voted in favour of the vaccine passport requirement, arguing that the legislature should set an example for the rest of the population regarding vaccination.
Speaking Thursday, Health Minister Christian Dubé criticized the parties that opposed the measure, saying, "I don't understand why parliamentarians don't want to set an example for Quebecers."
Québec solidaire and the Parti Québécois, the third and fourth parties in the legislature, opposed the measure because the public health department has not recommended it.
Paul St-Pierre Plamondon, the leader of the Parti Québecois, said Thursday that a vaccine passport is supposed to be reserved for non-essential activities — and that parliamentary democracy does not fit that category.
The vaccine passport requirement is expected to come into effect later in October. The rule will require political staff, legislature staff, journalists and visitors to show a piece of ID as well as proof they have been adequately vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to access the legislature.
In a phone interview, constitutional lawyer Julius Grey said it would have been problematic if the rule specifically targeted members of the legislature. He said any provision that would effectively bar unvaccinated people from holding office would potentially violate Section 3 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees democratic rights.
He pointed out that a Superior Court judge earlier this year struck down a portion of Quebec’s secularism law that banned legislature members from wearing face coverings, ruling that it would prevent a person who wears one from sitting in the national assembly, even if they were democratically elected.
“The House can decide which visitors come in and which do not, but when it comes to elected officials, under Section 3 of the charter, you cannot prevent elected officials from coming in,” Grey said in a phone interview.
Grey said that vaccine passports, originally conceived to access non-essential services such as bars and gyms, are being implemented in an increasingly wider set of circumstances, which reflects the fact that “society is losing patience” with those who are not vaccinated.
And while he’s a strong proponent of vaccines, and believes passports can be legal for non-essential activities, he said it’s important to be careful that the system isn’t expanded to the point where it infringes on basic rights.
“We look at each (situation) as it comes along, but as a sort of a general rule, if society just loses its patience and disenfranchises people, turns them into pariahs, I think there is a problem,” he said.
Meanwhile, Quebec reported 643 new cases of COVID-19 Friday and six more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus. COVID-19-related hospitalizations fell by one, to 310, while the number of people in intensive care fell by seven, to 84.
Provincial health authorities also reported an additional 18,121 doses of COVID-19 doses had been administered, the vast majority of them in the previous 24 hours.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 1, 2021.
— With files from Patrice Bergeron in Quebec City
Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press