No grace period for vaccine certificates for Ontario businesses, no enforcement either
TORONTO -- Ontario's proof-of-vaccination program doesn't have an official grace period, according to officials with the Ministry of Labour, making it unclear how or when the new rules will be enforced by the province.
The province's vaccine certificate program, launched on Sept. 22, comes with hefty fines between $1,000 to $10-million for businesses that choose to ignore the new laws.
On the day the policy was implemented, Premier Doug Ford indicated the province would be "reasonable" with business owners and focus on helping them understand the new rules.
"I want to be clear, enforcement will lead with education," Ford said on Sept. 22.
The Premier's statement was buoyed by Labour Minister Monte McNaughton, on Monday, who indicated that provincial inspectors are proactively visiting businesses "with an education-first approach."
While other provinces kicked off their vaccine certificate programs with an education campaign, British Columbia announced the two-week grace period ended this week -- forcing customers to use a quick response (QR) code to enter non-essential businesses.
Officials within the Ford government say the province never implemented an official grace period -- meaning fines for customers and businesses could be issued at any time.
"Provincial offences officers from across government are joining local by-law enforcement officers to visit restaurants, recreational facilities, and other businesses or organizations where patrons will be required to provide proof of vaccination before entry. The goal of these visits is to help workers and the public stay safe, and to keep businesses open," the Ministry of Labour said in a statement to CTV News.
Officials with the ministry also said while the province doesn't have an enforcement grace period the initial focus of by-law enforcement officers will be on "compliance education and promotion of the new guidance."
According to the government, at the discretion of the officer, businesses found to be in non-compliance of the Reopening Ontario Act can face a ticket of $1,000, or a penalty of up to $10,000,000.
Individuals found to be providing inaccurate or falsified information to a business could receive a ticket for $750, or penalty up to $100,000, and up to a year in jail.
"Officers will use their discretion when deciding to use compliance tools such as tickets and more severe penalties," officials with the ministry said in an email.
Neither the Minister of Labour, nor ministry officials, could say how any stores had been visited by provincial labour inspectors or how many non-compliance fines had been issued after the first weekend of the vaccine certificate program.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business agreed with the enforcement first approach saying owners have been “genuinely not aware of a shift” in government policy.
Ryan Mallough, with the CFIB’s Ontario chapter, said despite widespread media coverage of the vaccine certificate requirements some business owners were “surprised to find out they were included” but cautioned that owners could face fines at anytime.
“We always make sure our members are aware that there's no rule that says enforcement has to issue a warning," Mallough said. “They can fine on first offense (and often do) so businesses need to be prepared and compliant.”
Still, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath accused the government of taking a laid-back approach to vaccine certificates.
“We knew they didn’t want to do this in the first place and so it seems to me that they’re doing it in a lukewarm way,” Horwath told journalists at Queen’s Park.
“The government didn’t communicate and isn’t supporting.”