by Brandon Mayer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Quebec Premier, François Legault, announced last week that the province plans to impose a significant financial penalty – deemed a “health tax” – on those who are not vaccinated against COVID-19 without a valid medical exemption. The reasoning behind the tax is the idea that choosing to be unvaccinated creates a burden on the healthcare system, the financial component of which should not be the responsibility of all Quebecers, but rather only those who supposedly caused it. The move has been met with mixed reactions from politicians and members of the public.
A media release sent to the Times by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association heavily criticizes the proposed tax, saying that it compels people to undergo a medical procedure and violates the protections over bodily autonomy afforded by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The release also points out that Canada has a universal healthcare system that does not discriminate based on factors such as healthy eating choices, or the danger of one’s occupation, so it should not be discriminating against people based on their medical decisions either.
Many reactions from social media users have touched on these same points, arguing that the health tax would be a violation of rights, and that it is unfair to tax some health decisions, but not others. However, some supported the tax, expressing a hope that Ontario will adopt a similar penalty against unvaccinated individuals. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau seemed to support the legislation, noting that his government was reviewing it. During a pandemic media update on January 12, Trudeau told reporters that incentives and strong measures have worked in the past, giving examples such as vaccine passports and mandatory vaccinations for public servants.
Meanwhile, health critic, Monsef Derraji of Quebec’s Liberal opposition party, told reporters that he believes Legault’s government will backtrack on the proposed health tax in the coming weeks, because of mounting pressure. Legislators and experts have been scrambling since last month in the wake of the rapid spread of the highly contagious Omicron variant. There is mounting pressure on lawmakers to take steps to fight the spread of the virus, but not all experts agree that preventing the spread is the right move.
Some doctors and public health officials have spoken out, saying that allowing Omicron to spread may be the best chance of ending the pandemic, because it will create a herd immunity in the population using a mild variant of COVID-19. Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, Medical Officer of Health for the Eastern Ontario Health Unit, even pointed out recently that Omicron has the potential to shift the pandemic to an endemic status, although it remains to be seen whether his prediction of an end to the pandemic within a few months will become a much-anticipated reality.