First day of vaccine passport goes smoothly in Montreal, mostly

As of Wednesday, Quebecers will need to show proof of vaccination to enter most non-essential businesses.

Montreal Gazette 4 minute read September 1, 2021

Quebec’s vaccine passport came into effect Wednesday morning, with proof of COVID-19 vaccination now required to enter most non-essential businesses.

In downtown Montreal, the rollout appeared to go smoothly, despite some technical glitches, confusion and holdouts.

Within 15 minutes of opening, a Cora breakfast restaurant on Drummond St. had already refused a handful of unvaccinated customers, but most were happy to comply.

“It’s been a little frustrating at first, it’s always upsetting when you need to turn around customers in this difficult time,” said manager Thomas Resendes.

Resendes has assigned one employee to greet customers and check their passports, but he was also helping out to ensure the first day went as smoothly as possible.

Though the Quebec government’s two apps for the passport, VaxiCode and VaxiCode Vérif, were working well on smartphones, the restaurant struggled to get it to work through a tablet.

“One gentleman told me he was vaccinated, but didn’t have his proof, and obviously I can’t take his word on it. Other people just weren’t vaccinated yet, but they were understanding,” Resendes said.

“So it’s a bit of a constraint, but I understand the government’s stance in trying to make things as safe as possible. We just work with whatever we’re given.”

Jasmin Lauriere was among those to run into some slight confusion. The 18-year-old student arrived from France this week to study at Concordia University.

Though Lauriere is fully vaccinated, Quebec’s app didn’t recognize his government-issued QR code from France when he arrived at the restaurant. After a brief back and forth about the issue, Resendes let him in after asking for his identification.

“I felt that was the right thing to do,” he said afterward. (Quebec has stated out-of-province and international visitors will be able to show proof of vaccination from their governments along with a proof of address.)

The vaccine passport is the government’s way of ensuring fully vaccinated Quebecers will not have to lock down again as the fourth wave of COVID-19 sweeps Quebec.

Only Quebecers ages 13 and up need to present their QR codes to enter places where the passport is required. Children will need to show ID proving they are under 13 (such as their RAMQ cards).

People who try to enter places requiring the vaccine passport without one risk receiving the same fines handed out over the course of the pandemic for violating public health measures, ranging from $1,000 to $6,000.

To help with the transition, Quebec is allowing a two-week grace period for businesses before sanctioning those that aren’t enforcing the passport.

Café Castel, on Sherbrooke St., was one of the restaurants not yet using the passport system on Wednesday.

Owner Omar Tohme said he feels the government hasn’t been clear about how restaurants are supposed to apply the system. He said he’s asked government employees for guidance, with little success.

Asked about the vaccine passport app, he said he tried to download it Wednesday morning but couldn’t get it to work.

“At this point, we’re just trying to go with whatever the government says so we can stay open. We were closed for about a year and a half and we’re just trying to get rolling again,” Tohme said.

“And honestly I feel the government is taking the wind out of our sails,” he added. “We’re trying to reopen and they’re just adding more and more constraints and making it harder for businesses to reopen.”

Abed Elqueisi, owner of Le Parmigiano resturant, had his app ready to go as he waited for customers to arrive for breakfast Wednesday morning.

But as the pandemic has stretched on, business has been tough.

During a usual pre-pandemic morning, the restaurant would greet upward of 100 people every morning with a full breakfast buffet. It sat empty instead on Wednesday.

Elqueisi said he understands some businesses may be frustrated by the vaccine passport, but he believes it will be best for everyone in the long run.

“I hope (the passport) will encourage young people and unvaccinated people to get the vaccine,” he said.

“If everybody gets encouraged to get vaccinated maybe we can come back to normal,” he added. “It will be better for the economy, for the government, for the hospitals, better for me and you.”

This story will be updated.

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