Feds say provinces will issue 'standardized' proof of vaccination for travel

Instead of issuing a singular federal national COVID-19 vaccine passport, the federal government says that each province and territory will be responsible for issuing a “standardized pan-Canadian” vaccine passport that Canadians can use when travelling.

The proposed system means that, as is currently the case, provincial vaccine credentials will continue to be the main way that Canadians will have to show their vaccination status.

Each province's system is supposed to have a “common” look and feel, with the expectation that by next month all Canadians will have access to their vaccine credentials from their province or territory, as proof of vaccination will soon be needed in order to board a plane or train in this country.

This “standardized” proof of vaccination is already available to Canadians whose provinces and territories have issued approved vaccine credentials: Newfoundland and Labrador, Northwest Territories, Nova Scotia, Nunavut, Ontario, Quebec, Saskatchewan, and Yukon.

The remaining provinces are set to issue their standardized passports within the next month, and the documentation is able to be downloaded digitally or printed on paper.

The standardized document will include the passport-holder's name and date of birth, information on the vaccines they have received – which types, how many doses, and when they were administered, as well as a QR code.

The federal government is promising to promote this system internationally, so that border agencies, organizations, and businesses across the globe will be able to recognize and rely on these passports as Canadian documents because of the placement of a “Canada” word-mark in the upper-right-hand corner.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the plans at a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, following a briefing by departmental officials from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, the Public Health Agency of Canada, Transport Canada, and Canada Border Services Agency.

“We are very confident that this proof of vaccination certificate that will be federally approved, issued by the provinces with the health information for Canadians, is going to be accepted at destinations worldwide as proof of vaccination,” Trudeau said.

According to federal officials who briefed reporters prior to the press conference, the government explored different models, including one federally-issued document, but ultimately concluded that the “best way” and the way to “make it as easy as possible” was to use the existing provincial proof of vaccination systems.

“Provinces and territories are issuing this proof as they hold all of the vaccination information. The Government of Canada agreed that there was limited value in creating a national vaccination database and duplicating what provincial and territorial authorities are doing well,” said an official speaking on a not-for-attribution basis.

The passports will have verification measures and security features that will prevent tampering and forgeries, according to the government. Foreign border officials can either manually read the information on the passport, or scan the QP code with whichever digital validation technology they are using.

The “Canadian COVID-19 proof” can also be used with ArriveCan when submitting information when returning from abroad to be able to qualify for an exemption from quarantine. The app has now been updated to “digitally validate the authenticity of the new Canadian COVID-19 proof of vaccination, allowing Canadian officials to easily review it at the border,” according to briefing materials.

With countries continuing to open up their borders to recreational international travellers, many are requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccine to enter, including the United States. Canada has been in talks with international governments about a vaccine passport for foreign travellers for several months.

Richard Vanderlubbe, director of the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies director and president of Tripcentral.ca, said he was relieved that after waiting to see what this national passport would look like, Canadians won’t have to wait for an entirely new system to be built.

“It’s certainly good news that Canadians as they're travelling abroad, and they're checking in somewhere that, you know, the person looking at their passport won't wonder, like ‘where is Prince Edward Island?’” he said Thursday in an interview on CTV News Channel. “A Canadian status on there is a really good thing.”

“We aren't getting a brand new passport as was advertised. Having said that though it appears that they're quite happy with the provincial vaccine passports and decided that by putting their logo on it all of a sudden, it legitimize it as a Canadian product,” said Travel Secure President Marty Firestone in an interview with CTV News.

He said he’s optimistic that this proof will be accepted abroad, but noted that the ultimate deciding factor in whether Canadians can travel to certain places will be what countries policies are on accepted vaccines.

“Just because that logo is on the right hand corner of this document, it will not change another country's position with respect to the vaccines they accept, whether they accept mixed vaccines or not,” Firestone said.

In August, the government announced that it was collaborating with the provinces and territories to develop a “pan-Canadian approach” that would facilitate cross-border travel. During the federal election the Liberals promised $1 billion for provinces to implement vaccine passport systems.

“Not every province has yet delivered on that, but I know they are all working very quickly and should be should have resolved that in the weeks to come, certainly in time for people starting to travel again as we ease off some of those travel restrictions and demand proof of vaccinations for travelling,” Trudeau said.

Canadian travellers will soon need vaccine documentation for almost every mode of transportation, as the federal vaccine mandate for domestic air and rail travel is set to come into effect next week.

Employees and passengers in the federally-regulated air, rail and marine transportation sectors will have to be fully vaccinated as of Oct. 30. There will be a short period of time where proof of a negative COVID-19 test will be acceptable to board, though by the end of November that option will no longer be available.

The National Airlines Council of Canada welcomed the new pan-Canadian approach, saying it will be “critical for the effective implementation of the mandatory vaccination mandate.”

“We urge those provinces that have yet to release the new standardized proof of vaccination to do so as quickly as possible,” said the council’s President and CEO Mike McNaney in a statement.

Here is what the "standardized pan-Canadian" vaccine certificate will look like.

More: https://t.co/vazUhXEAkh pic.twitter.com/Jz61fkntiC

— Rachel Aiello (@rachaiello) October 21, 2021

With files from CTV News’ Ben Cousins and Sarah Turnbull