Quebec will revoke fake vaccine passports, health minister says amid anti-corruption probe
COVID-19 vaccine passports found to be faked will be revoked and criminal charges could be laid against people who bought them and produced them, Quebec’s health minister said Thursday amid an ongoing anti-corruption probe into alleged fraud schemes to evade the public health measure.
“The people who, unfortunately, did this … it’s very dangerous what they’ve done; to let unvaccinated people go to places that were reserved for vaccinated people,” said Minister Christian Dubé Thursday during a news conference on the COVID-19 situation in Quebec.
Quebec’s anti-corruption squad announced Wednesday it is investigating “various fraudulent schemes” to make and distribute fake vaccine passports. The Unité permanente anticorruption (UPAC) said it is working with the Ministry of Health and Social Services, municipal police forces, and the Quebec Crown prosecutor to identify potential violations of the law.
The unit said it wanted to keep the alleged schemes confidential “so as not to prejudice the gathering of evidence and the reputation of those who may be involved.”
“I used to be auditor, right, so I can tell you right now people are looking to see how many passports were issued,” Dubé said Thursday. “The UPAC is doing fantastic work and when we’re able to, we will revoke the passports.”
In the near future, once restaurants reopen their dining rooms in the province, they will be able to flag a fraudulent vaccine passport and prevent the user from entering the business, the health minister added.
Criminal charges could be laid not only for individuals responsible for making the fake passports, but also those who buy them, the province says. People found guilty could face charges under the Criminal Code or the Public Health Act.
Mathieu Galarneau, a spokesperson for UPAC, told CTV News that the agency has received “a large number of reports about false vaccine passports in the past few months, since late fall.”
He would not confirm a La Presse report that said “thousands” of reported fake passports are being investigated by UPAC.
“We are looking into reports of serious amounts of false vaccine passports,” Galarneau said.
“Given the context of public health guidelines [over COVID-19] and the confidence people place in the places they can access with the passports, it is important that these [fraudulent passports] be thoroughly investigated.”
He said UPAC is considering all types of possible scams, including those involving a network of people.
Anyone with information regarding the production or distribution of fake vaccine passports is asked to contact UPAC by calling 1-844-541-UPAC or by filling out a confidential form on its website.
Galarneau added that although the form is currently only available in French the agency is currently working to make its website more bilingual.
The warning from the anti-corruption body comes one day after Quebec made the vaccine passport mandatory to enter government-run liquor (SAQ) and cannabis (SQDC) stores — a measure Dubé has said could be expanded to more public settings in order to drive up vaccination rates amid the Omicron wave of the pandemic.
The vaccine passport has already been applied to restaurants, bars, cinemas, places of worship, outdoor festivals, and several other locations.
It’s not the first time authorities in Quebec have opened an investigation into alleged fraudulent vaccine passport schemes.
CTV News reported in October that the health ministry had to make tweaks to its vaccine verification process after people were able to bypass the system using phoney immunization documents from Ontario.
CTV was able to contact sellers involved in the operation that were offering fake vaccine passports for as much as $500.
At the time, Montreal police said they were investigating at least 10 cases of fake documents related to the vaccine passport.
LISTEN ON CJAD 800 RADIO: Tom Mulcair: The anti-fraud squad and anti-vaccine-pass fraudsters
With files from CTV Montreal's Max Harrold