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Claiming 'discrimination,' Vancouver businesses say they won't enforce B.C.'s vaccine passport

The businesses include independent photographers, restaurants and massage parlours
Corduroy Restaurant
Patrons and staff at Courdoury Restuarant openly defied provincial health orders in April which led to the City of Vancouver suspending the restaurant’s business licence.

Following the provincial government’s announcement that B.C. residents will need to show proof of vaccination to attend certain social events, many small businesses took to social media to announce they will not be enforcing the order.

The movement was spurred by the Instagram account @savesmallbusinessbc which helped coordinate and promote anti-vax protests earlier this year. Off Instagram, over 64,000 have joined the Facebook group BC Businesses against Health Pass where the narrative is much the same. Posts from business owners say they will not “discriminate” against those who are vaccinated or unvaccinated. 

Katia Somerville, the owner of and an artist at Rainfire Tattoo located on East Pender Street posted to the Facebook group advertising her business and how she conducts it. 

Rainfire Tattoo "does not discriminate against anyone, v or no v,” Somerville writes. “We are a private studio and do not require a mask while getting tattooed.”

Massage parlours, naturopaths, restaurants

The tattoo shop is one of the 28 Vancouver businesses on a growing online list also called BC Businesses against Health Pass. Among them are several massage parlours, naturopaths or vitamin businesses along with two Vancouver eateries: Just Waffles on East Hastings and Kitsilano’s Corduroy Restaurant.

Rebecca Matthews, Corduroy’s owner was vehemently opposed to B.C.’s first mask mandate and spoke at anti-vax rallies earlier this year. Patrons and staff at Corduroy also openly defied provincial health orders in April which led to the City of Vancouver suspending the restaurant’s business licence.

In a recent post to her restaurant’s Instagram page, Matthews spoke about the actions she will be taking and encouraged others to do the same. 

“The government is asking us to defy the Canadian Constitution or lose our business,” Matthews wrote. “They want small businesses to invade the medical privacy of their customers and DISCRIMINATE them based on a new, still in trial phase, medical treatment.”

Pre-existing restrictions on liberty 

Kyla Lee is a Vancouver lawyer who in recent days has received many questions asking if the vaccine passport is indeed an infringement on Canadian’s Charter Rights. She took to TikTok to share her thoughts on the matter and says ultimately it’s a fair balance.

“Your Charter Rights aren’t absolute. Like at any time the government has the ability to limit your Charter rights,” Lee says. “That can include restrictions on your rights to access certain things, restrictions on your rights to go certain places, restrictions on your bodily integrity rights.”

In her explanation, Lee draws a comparison between the vaccine and taking a breathalyzer test. Since driving is a privilege and not a right there are restrictions on your rights. Provided the demand for the breathalyzer test is lawful, there is a restriction on your bodily integrity rights and you must provide the sample or face legal consequences.

“We already see these types of liberty restrictions existing in our society,” Lee adds. “They exist because there’s a public safety balance that has to be done.”

Activities of privilege

Lee goes on to say it is important to recognize what’s actually being restricted with B.C.’s vaccine passport, i.e. not people’s rights to access essential services.

“You have to be vaccinated to do things that we commonly understand to be part of the most privileged activities in society: going to casinos, going to restaurants, going to bars, those are activities of privilege,” Lee said. “What the government is saying is that if you are going to participate in those activities of privilege then you have to be vaccinated.”

Finally, Lee lays out what would likely happen if the order is challenged in court, something she says undoubtedly will happen anyways. Lee expects the courts will look at the type of balance that has been struck, the activities that have been chosen, the level of risk associated and deem it a justifiable infringement of rights. 

“Even if they find that you have a right to go to a restaurant, which you don’t necessarily have,” Lee said.