LaSalle gym manager says she'd rather lose her job than enforce vaccine passport

Hibah Auon says she could never, in good conscience, forcibly turn someone away from a gym because they're not vaccinated. (Sanjay Maru/CTV News)

Businesses in Windsor-Essex have mixed reactions about the province’s incoming vaccine passport system for places like gyms, restaurants and theatres.

In fact, one gym manager says she would rather lose her job than turn anyone away who can’t present one at the door.

“I respect everybody — and I’m not going to discriminate against anybody,” said Hibah Auon, manager at LaSalle Fitness.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford made the announcement Wednesday, saying the certificate is necessary to keep non-essential businesses and facilities open as the Delta variant continues to fuel a fourth COVID-19 wave.

The province’s list of non-essential businesses include places like casinos, restaurants and bars (excluding outdoor patios), banquet halls, personal fitness training centres and movie theatres.

The full list of places where proof of vaccination will be needed can be found here.

For Auon, she acknowledges that a vaccine passport is meant to keep people safe. But she said this directive is “unsettling” and comes with many concerns.

“I would not have the heart or the audacity to look somebody in the eye and tell them they cannot come to the gym and work out and better themselves for their mental and physical health,” she said.

“I don’t think it’s right and I wouldn’t be able to do it.”

She added that vaccination should ultimately be a personal choice and forcing gyms to turn some people away because that decision is “unethical.”

Beyond that, one of her biggest gripes, she said, is that the province is considering gyms as non-essential.

“I think that’s completely absurd," Auon said. "I think everybody knows how beneficial exercise is to mental and physical health. I just honestly think that it’s very divisive as a community.”

Proof of vaccination will not be required at places like salons and barbershops.

The province said the decision to keep such businesses from the vaccine certificate rule is because data shows that the transmission risk is not as high in those settings due to strong infection control practices.

Vaccine certificates will also not be necessary for retail shopping, banks, places of worship, essential services, workplaces or patios and other outdoor spaces.

Meanwhile, business owners like Naresh Chevli, co-owner of Sai Prasad Indian Restaurant, said the passport system will help encourage more people in Windsor to get vaccinated.

“For the safety reasons, we love it. But everybody can’t be using the smartphone so they’ll be in trouble,” said Chevli.

Chevli shares the concerns of some advocates who say an electronic vaccine passport will burden people without cellphones or those who would have a more difficult time navigating technology.

Starting Sept. 22, residents will need to present the vaccination receipt alongside government-issued ID where proof is required.

For the official vaccine certificate, the province is working to establish personalized QR codes for vaccinated individuals, which is expected to be ready for Oct. 22.

“Older people, like 85 years old, they don’t have a smartphone. So because of the new rules coming in, they might not be able to enter our restaurant and we might lose those customers,” said Mohna Chevli, second owner of Sai Prasad restaurant.

In the coming weeks, the province said it’s working to establish a process to prove vaccination status for people with no e-mail, health card or ID, as well as support the implementation of vaccine certificates for Indigenous communities.

The Downtown Windsor BIA suggests anyone with questions about popping into a downtown business starting Sept. 22 give them a call.

“We’re not an enforcement association. We’re a business improvement association,” said DWBIA chair Brian Yeomans. “What we’ll do is make sure that our members are aware of what their responsibilities are.”

The premier said bylaw officers would be responsible for enforcing the new certificate policy. For individuals and businesses who do not comply with the program, fines will be issued under the Reopening Ontario Act.

With files from CTV News Toronto's Miriam Katawazi and Jon Woodward.