Updated: July 13, 2021
Vancouver, B.C. – British Columbia’s Human Rights Commissioner has issued new guidance to clarify the human rights considerations needed when developing rules about vaccination status.
With vaccine uptake numbers rising and public health restrictions easing in B.C., many businesses, employers and service providers (known as duty bearers) are considering “vaccination status policies,” including those that require people to prove they have been vaccinated to access their place of employment, housing and other services.
Ultimately, it is the position of B.C.’s Human Rights Commissioner, Kasari Govender, that duty bearers can in some circumstances implement a vaccination status policy such as a proof-of-vaccination requirement—but only if other less intrusive means of preventing COVID-19 transmission are inadequate for the setting and if due consideration is given to the human rights of everyone involved.
“Upholding individual rights while acting collectively to protect one another has been a challenge through the pandemic,” Commissioner Govender said. “We must maintain a careful balance between the rights of people who have not received the COVID-19 vaccine due to a personal characteristic protected in B.C.’s Human Rights Code and individual and collective rights to health and safety.”
To ensure the human rights of British Columbians are upheld during this period, Commissioner Govender recommends vaccine status policies adhere to six main principles:
- Equitable access
- Time limited
- Proportional to the health risk
- Necessary and minimally intrusive
- Respectful of privacy rights
Descriptions of each of these principles can be found in the guidance document. These are the principles required to establish a reasonable vaccination status policy. In applying that policy to individual rights holders (such as employees), duty bearers must accommodate those who cannot receive a vaccine to the point of undue hardship.
As stated in the Commissioner’s guidance, no one’s safety should be put at risk because of other people’s personal choices not to receive a vaccine, and no one should experience harassment or unjustified discrimination when there are effective alternatives to vaccination status policies.
“For those considering implementing a vaccine status policy, it important to ensure such policies do not violate people’s human rights, particularly the rights of those without equal access to the vaccine,” Commissioner Govender said. “That said, while not mandatory in most contexts, getting vaccinated against COVID-19 is an important way we can all help keep each other—especially the most marginalized and medically vulnerable people among us—as safe as possible.”
BCOHRC’s latest vaccine guidance follows a joint statement from Canada’s provincial, federal and territorial privacy commissioners on May 19, outlining the privacy principles, laws and best practices that should be followed when developing vaccine passports to ensure protection of sensitive personal health information.
On May 26, a statement from the Office of the Ombudsperson cautioned against COVID-19 vaccination passports being used to unfairly limit provincial and local public services. That statement also endorsed new national guidance from the Canadian Council of Parliamentary Ombudsman, “Fairness principles for public service providers regarding the use of COVID-19 vaccine certification.”
More COVID-19 guidance from BC’s Office of the Human Rights Commissioner
The Commissioner has been regularly responding to human rights issues raised by the pandemic:
- NEW – Proof of vaccination policy guidance for duty bearers during COVID-19: bchumanrights.ca/vaccination
- A human rights approach to mask wearing in COVID-19 (archived)
- Commissioner Govender’s video message on human rights during COVID-19
- Full policy statement on human rights during COVID-19
- Answers to frequently asked questions on human rights during COVID-19
The Commissioner encourages media to share these resources.
Commissioner Kasari Govender is not available for interviews. Members of the media who require more information should contact Elaine O’Connor, Acting Director, Communications, at Elaine.OConnor@bchumanrights.ca or 1-250-216-4534.
Download our media kit for images of Commissioner Kasari Govender.
BC’s Office of the Human Rights Commissioner exists to address the root causes of inequality, discrimination and injustice in B.C. by shifting laws, policies, practices and cultures. We do this work through education, research, advocacy, inquiry and monitoring. Learn more at: bchumanrights.ca
About the Commissioner
B.C.’s Human Rights Commissioner, Kasari Govender, started her five-year term on Sept. 3, 2019. Since then, our Office has been working swiftly to build a strong team, to listen deeply to the concerns of British Columbians, to deliver education materials on our rights and responsibilities, to issue policy guidance to protect marginalized communities and to lay a human rights-based foundation for our work. As an independent officer of the Legislature, the Commissioner is uniquely positioned to ensure human rights in B.C. are protected, respected and advanced on a systemic level throughout society.
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