‘Let the unvaccinated stay home’: Quebec gym requires proof of vaccination

A Quebec gym is requiring all of its customers to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and the owner says he doesn’t care if it means he’ll lose a few customers because of the new policy.

"I'm now honestly happy to lose them," Alan Gauthier told CTV News on Wednesday.

"I don't need to put the rest of my clientele at potential risk, nor my own personal health or that of my children."

The Athletica gym in Lac-Brome, Que., approximately 100 kilometres east of Montreal, put up a sign outside the front door advising customers that vaccines are mandatory to use the facility.

Gauthier said staff will ask customers for proof of vaccination, including the paper-based version people are given after they receive their dose of the vaccine.

He said the decision for the requirement comes down to public safety, but is also based on concerns from his clients as well as his own belief that mandatory proof of vaccination "is inevitably coming" for places like gyms and restaurants given the state of the pandemic.

"I got to a point where I wasn't quite sure anymore you know who's coming in vaccinated, who wasn't coming in vaccinated," he said.

"I'm at the point now, having been [partially] closed for almost 15 months in the past year with the various zone changes in Quebec a decision needed to be taken so let the unvaccinated stay home."

Generally, the response has so far been positive, with most customers agreeing with his policy, he said. One person wrote on the gym's Facebook page: "We just need a government with a little more 'guts' to extend the directive." Gauthier added that he had one customer who disagreed with the requirement. 

The gym, which has been around for 20 years, hasn’t had a single case of COVID-19, according to Gauthier, who wants to keep it that way. He said he wants to avoid the situation in the early spring in which a Quebec City gym was linked to an outbreak of roughly 400 cases of the virus.

New York City became the first big U.S. city to announce it will require proof of vaccinations for access to gyms, performances and for indoor dining — a new requirement driven by a surge of new cases of the virus linked by the highly contagious Delta variant.

"The goal here is to convince everyone that this is the time. If we're going to stop the Delta variant, the time is now," Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Tuesday.

On Wednesday, Quebec’s ministry of health confirmed to CTV News that unvaccinated or partially vaccinated Quebecers accounted for 92 per cent of new COVID-19 cases from July 1 to 24.

Proof of vaccination is not a requirement in Quebec, but officials said that will change "if the situation continues to deteriorate." A vaccine passport for non-essential services could be rolled out as soon as Sept. 1 if it’s needed, according to the government.

As of Wednesday, 83 per cent of eligible Quebecers have received one dose of the vaccine, while only 67 per cent is fully vaccinated.

IS IT LEGAL?

The Athletica gym is free to make its own rules since there is no clear guidance from the law on proof of vaccination, according to a Toronto-based lawyer.

Molly Reynolds, a lawyer specializing in ethics and privacy litigation, said a lack of guidance from Privacy Commissioner creates some leeway for private businesses to enact such policies.

"There is no law that prohibits, explicitly, a business from requiring proof of vaccinations," she said.

"But there is guidance, for example, from the privacy regulators across the country that say the business needs to be able to show that vaccination is necessary to meet the public health requirements, and that it is as least invasive as possible to people's privacy rights in order to meet that requirement."

Reynolds said if a business can’t satisfy that test, it could be open to a legal challenge from a customer, but civil litigation cases are often very expensive to pursue.

"I think most businesses would prefer to know whether something is permissible or not thanto have that leeway resting on their own," she said.

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