Why some Quebec businesses want to keep the vaccine passport, even if they don’t have to

With only weeks left to go, some businesses in Quebec say they’re not done with the province’s vaccine passport, despite the government’s recent decision to stop requiring it.

Staff standing outside the Chez Eric restaurant in Montreal’s Place Jacques Cartier. Owner Eric Luksenberg said the Montreal location has closed due to the pandemic, but its South Shore location will continue to require the vaccine passport. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

With only weeks left to go, some businesses in Quebec say they’re not done with the province’s vaccination passport, despite the government’s recent decision to no longer require it for most public spaces.

The Quebec government announced last week that the vaccine passport would no longer be needed to enter restaurants, gyms, and cinemas, as of March 14.

But some of those businesses say they plan to keep the passport for the foreseeable future, despite the government’s decision and ongoing pressure from the public.

“We’re not a young people’s restaurant. It’s a restaurant for people of a certain age,” said Eric Luksenberg, the owner of the Chez Eric restaurant in Brossard, on Montreal’s South Shore.

“I made that decision to stay safe … for the security of my employees, my customers, and myself.”

He’s not alone. Alan Gauthier, who owns the Athletica Lac Brome gym in Knowlton, is also planning to keep the vaccination passport past March 14.

“I have people who are immunocompromised, and I have to protect them,” he told CBC News.

“There’s not much of a decision to make as far as I’m concerned.”

Negative reviews and bad business

Both Gauthier and Luksenberg said they don’t understand why the government is choosing to lift restrictions now, when the pandemic is still ongoing. 

Gauthier said he couldn’t “profess to be in the business of health” while lifting a measure that he believes is keeping his clients safe.

He pointed to what happened last year at the Mega Fitness Gym 24H in Quebec City, where public health officials linked the gym to more than 500 COVID-19 cases after public health measures weren’t followed. One gym member, a 40-year-old man, later died in hospital.

“You have to live with yourself at the end of the day,” he said.

Gym owner Alan Gauthier said he’s planning to keep using the vaccine passport at his gym, even after the government removes the requirement on March 14. (Submitted by Alain Gauthier)

Their decisions haven’t been without consequences. Gauthier said his stance is likely going to cost him and his business financially.

It’s also affecting their reputations. Since Luksenberg announced he would not be lifting the vaccine passport, Chez Eric has been bombarded with one-star reviews on Google, with some accusing the owner of discrimination. 

Luksenberg isn’t bothered by it.

“These are people who I’ve never seen, who never came to my place, saying they’re going to boycott me,” he said.

Both said that as private establishments, they can choose to refuse service and don’t plan to change their minds.

“I respect their decision [not to be vaccinated]. Doesn’t mean I agree with it, nor do I have to, and nor do I have to let them in,” Gauthier said.

“Eating at Chez Eric isn’t an essential service,” Luksenberg said. “So leave me to my business and go where you like.”

Jimmy Staveris, left, manager of Dunn’s Famous restaurant in Montreal, scans the QR code of a client. The vaccine passport was first implemented in the province last fall. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

Not recommended, says government

In a statement to CBC, the province’s Health Ministry said the passport will be “not required, nor recommended” as of March 14.

However, it said it will be up to owners to “ensure that access to their businesses complies with applicable laws,” notably the provincial and federal charters of rights.

Pearl Eliadis, a constitutional rights lawyer and adjunct professor at McGill University, said she didn’t think using the vaccine passport after March 14 would be problematic for businesses.

She said that vaccination status is not protected under Quebec’s charter, and that she is “curious about what type of discrimination [the government is] referring to exactly.”

Julius Grey, a constitutional lawyer based in Montreal, said he wasn’t sure requiring the vaccine passport would be more discriminatory than imposing a dress code in a restaurant, for example.

Even so, Gauthier, the gym owner, said he understands why some places may still hesitate to ask for the passport, even if they want to — “businesses aren’t necessarily brave,” he said.

Luksenberg agreed, saying places that serve a wider population may struggle to justify keeping the passport if it means alienating potential customers.

“Everyone will do what they want to do and what they think is good for them. And there is no problem with that, I won’t criticize anyone,” he said.

“To each their own decision, and to each to live with that.”

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