WINNIPEG’S mayor is urging the province to reveal exactly how personal health information tied to its new immunization cards will be used and who will be able to access it.
Mayor Brian Bowman, a non-practising privacy lawyer, said Manitoba’s announcement Tuesday about the creation and future distribution of immunity certificates left many questions unanswered.
"Any time you collect, use or disclose personal health information, it should be limited to specified purposes only. And the lack of clarity about what the vaccine passport can or should be used for, and what it should or should not be used for by governments, not-for-profits or (the) private sector, is one of those basic due diligence steps you would have expected to be disclosed," Bowman said Wednesday.
"Getting the passport itself (requires) personal health information. You can only get the passport if you’ve had your two (COVID-19 vaccine) shots."
The mayor said he doesn’t oppose the immunization card itself, as long as the province is diligent to protect privacy. He said measures to do so should incorporate input from the Manitoba ombudsman, a provincial authority on privacy, while the card should also have a clear expiry date.
Bowman added he’s concerned the program risks creating negative side-effects. Since the cards qualify Manitobans for specific privileges, not having one could lead those who aren’t vaccinated to be denied services, he said.
Such an effect could be magnified if companies, and not just government, are permitted to require the cards as proof of immunization, he said.
"The risk, of course, is unintended consequences, if you don’t structure a program like this properly."
For now, the cards exempt fully vaccinated Manitobans from having to quarantine after they travel between provinces, and will qualify them to visit fully vaccinated loved ones in hospital.
Information is lacking on what other privileges could be linked to the card in the future and whether any options have been ruled out, Bowman said. "It would serve everybody to know what it can and cannot be used for, just so that folks know what the ground rules are."
When asked to respond to the mayor’s comments, a provincial spokesperson said Premier Brian Pallister’s Tuesday news conference addressed the issue.
At that time, the premier stressed the only personal information linked to the immunization card is a person’s full name and vaccination status.
The premier also said the cards are meant to be temporary. He did not comment on who could access the information, if details could be shared beyond government officials nor what specific privacy protections are in place.
In a brief emailed statement, a provincial spokesperson stressed such information is carefully controlled.
"With regards to any privacy concerns, the mayor and all Manitobans can rest assured that the same stringent rules which already govern personal health information will apply with respect to the Manitoba immunization card," the statement said.
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.