Quebec's anti-corruption fraud, UPAC, is cracking down on various schemes involving fake passports, warning those involved in the production, trafficking or use of them could face serious criminal charges.
Public Security Minister Geneviève Guilbault told Radio-Canada's Tout un matin Thursday that UPAC is investigating 150 cases related to fake passports, including 30 involving alleged bribery and attempted fraud. A single case may be linked to several people and fake vaccine passports.
"[Those committing fraud should know that] at any time, the fake passport could be deactivated," Guilbault said. "They will have lost their money, and they could incur really unfortunate penalties ... jail time, fines."
In a report published by La Presse, a former employee of the Olympic Stadium mass vaccination centre called the centre's security system "mediocre." He said he had been offered around $60,000 in bribes to enter false information about 60 patient files.
Most cases under investigation involve attempted fraud, such as manipulating data in patient files, rather than individuals producing their own fake vaccine passports, Guilbault said, because the government's system can detect fake QR codes that weren't issued by the province.
"We've always been pretty humble about how technology has been a challenge for the government and the Health Ministry," she said. "We're trying really hard to make sure … the systems are as effective as possible."
A spokesperson for UPAC, Mathieu Galarneau, said the unit has been receiving reports about the use of fake vaccine passports since July 2021.
"We're seeing different stratagems, and we're working with our partners in the various police forces to identify all the stratagems that are being used," Galarneau said.
Most instances of vaccine passport fraud reportedly took place in Montreal and the Montérégie and Laurentians regions.
The number of cases transferred to the provincial prosecutor, the Directeur des poursuites criminelles et pénales (DPCP), is not yet known.
In a news release Wednesday, UPAC said it wished to keep details about the scam confidential to avoid hampering the investigation. According to Guilbault, UPAC is focusing on public servants who allegedly produced and sold fake vaccine passports for thousands of dollars.
Radio-Canada reported in December 2021 that some health-care workers involved in the scheme allegedly received up to $3,000 per fraudulent vaccine passport.
Meanwhile, the Sûreté du Québec is tracking people using fake vaccine passports
"Any person who uses a fake vaccine passport can be charged with fraud, forgery or using a counterfeit document," said SQ spokesperson Marité Bolduc.
As Quebec prepares to extend its vaccine passport to big-box stores Monday, Guilbault is urging people to get vaccinated if they haven't already.
"If you get vaccinated, you'll have a real vaccine passport that you'll be able to use in peace, and on top of it, you won't compromise the health of the population," she said.