Quebec wants to tax people not vaccinated against COVID-19. Can the province do that? | The Canadian News

Quebec’s plan to impose a tax on adults who choose not to get vaccinated against COVID-19 is already being called “constitutionally vulnerable” by critics, but experts say the province is well within its rights and is likely to challenges fail.

Details about the proposed tax are scant, but Prime Minister Francois Legault said Tuesday that the penalty would be “significant.” Those with a medical exemption would be exempt from the tax.

Legal experts say that provinces have constitutional authority to levy direct taxes to pay for services like health care, and that it makes sense from a fair perspective to force those who pose the greatest burden on the health care system to pay more for it.

“They’re not taking away people’s freedom, they’re just asking them to pay a price if they’re a risk,” said David Duff, a professor at the Peter A. Allard School of Law at the University of British Columbia.

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“If the health care system were financed through private insurance, which is priced according to risk, one would expect to see higher premiums for the unvaccinated. This is a demonstrable risk.”

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Quebec to impose a tax on people who are not vaccinated against COVID-19

The tax is being proposed as Quebec faces unprecedented pressure on its health care system from the highly transmissible Omicron variant, which is sending more people to hospital than at any time during the pandemic.

More than 2,700 people were in hospital with COVID-19 as of Tuesday, including 255 patients in intensive care. Another 62 deaths were also reported on Tuesday alone.

Legault noted that half of people in intensive care are not vaccinated, even though that group comprises 10 percent of the adult population.

Duff says that while the prospect of taxing people for choosing not to get vaccinated may be unprecedented, the tax system has long been used to incentivize people’s behavior through credits or grants.

“We get a tax break by investing in our retirement, why? Because (the government) wants to encourage that,” he said. “If you give to charity, you get something back. This is similar to that.

“Will it influence people’s behavior? That remains to be seen.”

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Click to play the video: 'Quebec will introduce a health tax for the unvaccinated'

Quebec to introduce health tax for the unvaccinated

Quebec to introduce health tax for the unvaccinated

While the tax is unprecedented in Canada, other countries have introduced similar measures. Austria announced in December Vaccine hesitators over the age of 13 will have to pay up to €3,600 (Canadian $5,139) in fines every three months. From this month, Greece will fine residents over 60s who refuse the vaccine 100 euros (CA$142) per month. Y in Italy, residents aged 50 or over they must now be vaccinated or they could face fines of up to 1,600 euros (CA$2,287).

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Quebec doctors’ order calls for tougher measures against the unvaccinated

Whether such policies will boost vaccines in those countries remains to be seen. But Devon Greyson, an assistant professor at the University of British Columbia’s School of Population and Public Health, says the impact may not be as big as Quebec officials hope.

They point to studies conducted in BC which found that while most people supported policies that improved access to vaccines and information, that support dipped slightly for incentives like cash payments for receiving the vaccine, plummeting when respondents were asked about punishing the reluctant.

“It is reasonable to think that this may result in a short-term increase in vaccinations, but I think the questions are more about the long-term effects and just the ethics of going ahead with something like this,” they said.

“I think it’s interesting that this is happening after Quebec withdrew the vaccine mandate for healthcare workers, who would reasonably be a larger source of infection than the general population.”

Greyson says it will be important for the Quebec government to ensure vaccines are accessible to all segments of the population, including low-income and racialized residents, before it starts penalizing the unvaccinated.

That’s also a major concern of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, which issued a statement late Tuesday predicting that “the divisive move…will end up punishing and alienating those most in need of health support and services.” public”.

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“We don’t fine people who make poor diet and exercise choices, who choose higher-risk occupations or recreational activities,” said Acting General Counsel Cara Zwibel. “Some essential services, like basic health care for those who are sick, transcend those individual choices.”

In an interview, Zwibel said the tax may also violate bodily autonomy protections for individuals included in Canada’s and Quebec’s charters of rights and freedoms.

“You have to ask, is it justified?” she said. “The burden is on the government to show that they have a compelling and substantial objective that (they) are trying to achieve and that this is a proportionate response to that. And the government has not said what the goal is here.”

Legault did not explicitly say that his goal with the tax was to increase vaccinations, but his administration has repeatedly emphasized the importance of vaccinations in easing the pandemic and reducing strain on the health care system.

Click to play video: 'COVID-19: Constitutional expert weighs in on Quebec's health tax'

COVID-19: Constitutional expert weighs in on Quebec’s health tax

COVID-19: Constitutional expert weighs in on Quebec’s health tax

Constitutional law experts also say the proposed tax would not limit people’s access to health care in the same way that unvaccinated patients would be charged for services, exceeding the threshold set by the Canada Health Act.

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Stephane Beaulac, a constitutional law professor at the University of Montreal, told Global News that any legal challenge against the tax would likely be based on discrimination arguments, which would be difficult to succeed.

“The problem is that under the Canadian Charter or the Quebec Charter … there are specific grounds of discrimination that are prohibited,” he said. “And last time I checked, there is nothing that specifically addresses one’s vaccination status.

“In other words, choosing not to get vaccinated is, under Canadian and Quebec law, something that is within the realm of freedom, one’s freedom. But that does not mean that if there is a measure that goes against the choice that one has made for oneself, it would be discrimination.

Alberta and British Columbia said Tuesday they would not follow Quebec’s example and introduce a financial penalty for unvaccinated people.

Duff says those provinces and others will continue to watch how Quebec’s proposed tax plays out, and whether it makes any difference in the fight against the pandemic.

“If others follow, we’ll see,” he said. “But I doubt it will move quickly.”

— with Global Montreal and Canadian Press archives

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