A Tory MLA who refused to reveal her COVID-19 immunization status for months was forced Sunday to declare she is fully vaccinated after her judgment was called into question for failing to provide digital proof of her status at a Winnipeg restaurant last week.
Oakwood Café owner Wendy May emailed the premier on Friday afternoon to raise concerns about a situation that ended with her turning away Progressive Conservative MLA Janice Morley-Lecomte earlier in the day.
The elected representative for Seine River arrived at the Osborne Street bistro with a group around lunchtime and upon request for her immunization status, the politician provided a server with a piece of paper that had no scannable information on it, said May.
The server then checked with the owner to see if the document was acceptable and returned to inform the guest that she needed to show her Manitoba or Pan-Canadian QR code.
"She said, ‘I’m an MLA,’ and proceeded to tell our server that the information we had was wrong, but we know it isn’t because we check in with our health inspector constantly," said May.
"She wasn’t rude. She wasn’t unpleasant. She left, but it was the fact that she announced she was an MLA, — it doesn't matter if you’re the prime minister coming in, if you don’t have the right information coming in, you can’t stay — it did really rub me the wrong way."
Prior to Sunday, only two of the 56 sitting MLAs — both of whom are members of the PC caucus: Morley-Lecomte and Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler — had not publicly disclosed their immunization status.
Morley-Lecomte announced she is fully vaccinated in a statement Sunday that outlined the incident, including the fact she responded, "no thanks" when told her printed document was insufficient and asked to download a QR code via app.
"I am double vaccinated. If there was a misunderstanding, I do apologize. I had used the printed record multiple times at restaurants and other locations where proof of vaccination status is required and it was accepted," she wrote, adding she has since downloaded the QR code onto her phone.
Restaurants are only allowed to serve people for dine-in who can either present evidence of their vaccination status, show proof from the province that there is a medical reason they cannot receive a vaccine, and children who are younger than 12, per current public health orders.
Staff are expected to use the Manitoba Verifier Application to confirm a person’s immunization status by scanning their QR code — whether it’s provided on a physical card, printed piece of paper or a screenshot of their online card — and review a piece of government-issued identification to corroborate their name.
"The guidance we’ve been given is if it’s not verifiable, if it can be doctored in any way, then we are to not accept it," said Shaun Jeffrey, executive director and CEO of the Manitoba Restaurant and Foodservices Association.
Failure to comply with the order could result in a $5,000 fine.
Jeffrey, who noted the order has been in place for months, said members of the public should be prepared to immediately provide proper documentation upon entry so as to not put additional stress on hostesses, managers and other employees.
"It’s a little disheartening to me to hear that we’re having anybody, nevermind an elected politician, going in there and adding to the stress load that our industry is already facing," he added Sunday.
The owner of the Oakwood said she did not intend to make a fuss about the incident, but rather emailed the premier and other party leaders to inquire if MLAs are exempt from following public health orders.
While May said the extra verification step inconveniences everyone involved, it’s for the safety of staff and patrons alike. "Everybody has to do their part, like it or lump it," she added.
With her permission, Dougald Lamont, leader of the Manitoba Liberals, took to Twitter to post an excerpt of the email she sent to the premier.
"These are not hard things to do — showing your proof of vaccination and your ID is something literally every single one of us has had to do," said Lamont, during a phone call. "There's no excuse for an MLA not to have the card."
NDP Leader Wab Kinew echoed those comments Sunday, saying it appeared as though the MLA for Seine River was asking for special treatment. Kinew said the PC caucus needs to make clear that "this behaviour is unacceptable."
A spokesperson for Premier Heather Stefanson responded to a request for comment on the subject with a generic statement.
"We expect all Manitobans — including elected officials — to follow and respect the public health orders that are in place to protect Manitobans from the impacts of COVID-19 and to ensure the health system can continue to care for those in need," wrote the spokesperson.
Almost 85 per cent of Manitobans born before 2009 have received two doses of COVID-19 vaccine to date.
Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.