People wanting a seat at a blackjack table or in a movie theatre in Manitoba will first have to prove they’re vaccinated against COVID-19. There are no guarantees the employees dealing cards or serving popcorn are immunized as well.
On Thursday, a provincial spokesperson confirmed staff at movie theatres, museums, galleries, casinos and concert halls — venues soon accessible only to customers who are fully vaccinated — are exempt from the immunization rule.
"Organizations must decide how they will proceed regarding vaccination and their staff," a public health spokesperson said in a statement to the Free Press. "It is recommended that legal advice be obtained before any such requirement is implemented."
On Saturday, new public health orders come into force which extend extra privileges to fully vaccinated Manitobans — benefits that partially and unvaccinated people do not have — but stop short of requiring immunization for workers at reopening venues.
Nicole Smith, a lawyer with Pitblado Law specializing in labour and human rights, said the Manitoba government is exercising caution in keeping its vaccination requirements focused on patrons.
“The government’s aware that ensuring that all employees are immunized may be next to impossible under the Human Rights Code." — Nicole Smith, a lawyer with Pitblado Law
"The government’s aware that ensuring that all employees are immunized may be next to impossible under the Human Rights Code," Smith said. "Employers, and that includes venue operators, have an obligation to accommodate employees who are not able to vaccinate based on a legitimate protected characteristic."
Some characteristics protected by the Manitoba code include religious beliefs, political beliefs, disability, and pregnancy.
Smith added limiting a person’s ability to go to a football game or a restaurant with friends based on vaccination status is very different from limiting an employee’s ability to work in their chosen profession, and are therefore being treated differently.
However, next month, when IG Field plays host to thousands of fully vaccinated CFL fans for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ 2021 home opener against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, staff will also have to flash their COVID-19 immunization card, or take a rapid test.
Darren Cameron, senior director of public and player relations for the Winnipeg Football Club, said that decision was made in collaboration with public health officials.
"All staff will be required to show their Manitoba immunization card or receive a rapid test prior to starting their shift. They’ll also be required to wear masks at all times," Cameron confirmed to the Free Press. He emphasized COVID-19 vaccinations are not mandatory for staff.
Without guidance from public health on staff vaccination policies in venues where patrons must be immunized, operators are still deliberating the issue.
“All staff will be required to show their Manitoba immunization card or receive a rapid test prior to starting their shift. They’ll also be required to wear masks at all times." — Darren Cameron, senior director of public and player relations for the Winnipeg Football Club
True North Sports and Entertainment Ltd. vice-president of communications Rob Wozny said it is too soon to speculate if concert venue staff will be required to be immunized, once shows resume.
"We’re still working with the province to get further direction and understanding of the health orders, and how we will operate within them," Wozny said.
Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries Corp. expressed a similar sentiment Thursday, telling the Free Press it would not be able to answer questions about vaccination requirements for casino staff until next week. The Crown corporation has yet to announce when its casinos will reopen.
Meanwhile, the Winnipeg Art Gallery has determined its staff will not have to prove they are fully vaccinated when the facility reopens Aug. 14.
Amy Rebecca Harrison, WAG-Qaumajuq engagement supervisor, said the facility will follow public health orders set out by the government, adding most gallery employees are already fully vaccinated.
Harrison said the gallery is also holding off on reopening to establish a respectful process to confirm the vaccination status of visitors when it launches its latest exhibit, Naadohbii: To Draw Water.
"We’re respectful that Manitoba Health is giving us the best information that they can in order to keep us all safe and healthy, so we’re just doing what we can to follow those mandates," Harrison said.
In some circumstances, an employer may be able to establish a need for a mandatory vaccination policy based on risk of COVID-19 transmission and severe consequences, Smith said.
One example would be the health-care sector, Smith said.
However, case law on mandatory COVID-19 vaccination is evolving as complaints related to vaccination policies move through the courts and human rights tribunals, the lawyer said.
Unvaccinated children under 12 may also attend venues where vaccination is required, if they are accompanied by fully vaccinated members of their household, according to the province.
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.