SAQ and SQDC now require vaccine passport — but will it change anything?

The measure is designed to encourage Quebecers to get their first shot, Health Minister Christian Dubé says.

Publishing date:

Jan 18, 2022  •  21 hours ago  •  5 minute read

Would-be shoppers at Société des alcools du Québec and Société québécoise du cannabis locations will now need to exhibit their government-issued vaccine passport and personal ID to be allowed inside.
Would-be shoppers at Société des alcools du Québec and Société québécoise du cannabis locations will now need to exhibit their government-issued vaccine passport and personal ID to be allowed inside. Photo by Allen McInnis /Montreal Gazette

No jab, no buzz.

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Quebec on Tuesday began requiring anyone wishing to buy alcohol or cannabis in person to show proof of vaccination at about 500 government-owned retail locations. Would-be shoppers at Société des alcools du Québec and Société québécoise du cannabis stores now need to exhibit their government-issued vaccine passport and personal ID to be allowed inside.

A security guard scans a vaccination passport at an SQDC outlet in Montreal on Tuesday.
A security guard scans a vaccination passport at an SQDC outlet in Montreal on Tuesday. Photo by Allen McInnis /Montreal Gazette

The requirement comes into effect as Quebec grapples with a resurgence in COVID-19 contaminations — the fifth such wave since the start of the pandemic 22 months ago. Hospitalizations hit a new daily record of 3,417 Tuesday as the province recorded 89 new deaths. Quebec registered more than 51,000 new cases of COVID-19 in the seven days to Monday, second only to Ontario’s 68,310, according to federal government data .

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Many Montrealers seemed to take the requirement in stride as they went shopping on Day 1 of the new regime.

“It’s a fairly drastic step but we’re in a situation where restrictive measures are needed,” Martin Carrière said while waiting for the doors of the Queen Mary Rd. SQDC outlet to open at 9 a.m. “Something like this wouldn’t be justified if we weren’t in a pandemic. If people don’t want to act according to the common good, then the government has to take all necessary measures. This is a little bit like making the seatbelt mandatory. It’s going to take a while for people to fall in line.”

Standing next in line to Carrière, Montrealer Carl Chaumont shrugged off the change, saying the vaccine passport is “neither good nor bad. We just have to deal with it. From a health standpoint it doesn’t really reassure me. All I know is that it’s going to make things more complicated. There will be lineups.”

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Unwilling to line up outside in the cold, Pascale Legault made sure to head to her local SAQ outlet shortly after doors opened Tuesday morning.

“Getting my vaccine passport scanned by the store manager was a fairly smooth process, but then again there was virtually no one inside,” Legault said as she exited the Queen Mary Rd. store. “It’ll probably be a lot more crowded at lunchtime. I agree with the measure but as a shopper, it’s one more thing to worry about. Now you need to go through a checklist before you step outside. I think everyone is starting to get fed up.”

Quebec shoppers had better get used to flashing their vaccine passport. Premier François Legault said Thursday that the document will become mandatory in big-box retailers such as Costco, Walmart and Canadian Tire starting Jan. 24. Small stores — covering less than 1,500 square metres, or about 16,000 square feet — and common areas of malls will be exempted from the measure, as will all retailers whose main business comes from food sales or pharmacy operations, the premier added.

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Requiring the vaccine passport at the SAQ and SQDC is designed to encourage Quebecers to get their first shot, health minister Christian Dubé told reporters Jan. 6. It will also limit contacts of unvaccinated people, he said.

The union representing SAQ employees called Tuesday for security guards at all times at SAQ outlets to protect staff against those refusing to present vaccine passports. “Our impression is that the SAQ has chosen to manage risks, to react only when untenable situations arise,” said union president Lisa Courtemanche.

About eight per cent of Quebecers ages 12 and over have yet to receive at least one dose of the vaccine, according to data compiled by the Institut national de santé publique du Québec, and close to 90 per cent of Quebecers ages 12 and over are considered to be adequately vaccinated.

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Health authorities see increased vaccination rates as a major tool to combat the pandemic. Compared with vaccinated Quebecers, unvaccinated individuals are 5.8 times more likely to be hospitalized, provincial figures released Monday indicate.

No matter how annoying they might be for some people, vaccine requirements do appear to carry some clout. The mere announcement of vaccine mandates last fall led to an average 66-per-cent surge in new, first-dose vaccinations in Canadian provinces, according to new research by economists at Simon Fraser University.

Quebec registered about 6,000 first dose appointment requests on the day the passport requirement at the SAQ and SQDC was made public — four times the previous daily average of 1,500.

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While the surge is impressive, a large part can be attributed to parents signing up their children in preparation for a return to school, said Simon Bacon, professor of health, kinesiology and applied physiology at Concordia University and co-lead of a major international COVID-19 behavioural study.

“If you break down by age, most of the surge has been driven by 5-to-11 year-olds and 12-to-19 year-olds,” Bacon said Tuesday in an interview. “So yes, we’ve jumped, but not in the groups of people who care about alcohol or pot generally.”

Closer inspection of the daily vaccination figures supports his analysis. For instance, INSPQ data show some 4,012 first doses were administered in Quebec Jan. 13. Of that number, 38 per cent were for children aged 5-17.

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That’s why Bacon has his doubts about the ultimate success of the vaccine passport requirement — which he calls “punitive”  — in boosting overall vaccination rates.

“I don’t think these measures are going to be very effective,” Bacon said. “There are different flavours of unvaccinated people. Some people have been dragging their feet over getting the vaccine, and these kinds of prodding measures will oftentimes shift that proportion of people. But it’s a very small proportion of the population that you’re going to influence.”

Besides, unvaccinated Quebecers who desperately want to buy alcohol in person have other options available. They can buy lower-quality wine at the grocery store without a passport — or if they are willing to drive, they can also shop at 429 so-called “agencies” — SAQ-branded points of sale that are located inside grocery stores and convenience stores across Quebec. Near Montreal, the SAQ’s own website lists dozens of agencies in the Eastern Townships, the Laurentians or Montérégie.

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“If someone wants their wine, they can still get it,” said Legault, the SAQ shopper. “Or they can ask a friend to buy bottles for them. There’s always a way.”

ftomesco@postmedia.com

More On This Topic

  1. People line up for their COVID-19 vaccine at the St-Laurent vaccination centre on Ste-Croix Ave. on Dec. 27, 2021.

    Demand for first dose jumps after Quebec requires vaccine passport for SAQ, SQDC

  2. Because of labour shortages, forcing retailers like Costco to check vaccine passports “will create lineups that didn’t previously exist,

    Quebec retailers see ‘a lot of ambiguities’ in new vaccine passport rule

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