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Privacy czar probing complaints about federal public service vaccination requirement

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OTTAWA — The federal privacy watchdog is investigating “a number of complaints” about the government’s COVID-19 vaccination requirement for public servants.

Privacy commissioner Daniel Therrien said in a statement Friday his office was looking into the concerns, but provided no details given they are now the subject of “ongoing investigations.”

The Liberal government announced earlier this month that core public servants must be vaccinated against the virus or face suspension without pay as early as Nov. 15.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also announced this week that provinces and the federal government have agreed on a new national vaccine passport for domestic and international travel.

Therrien said his office has had “constructive discussions” with federal officials over the last few months on the standardized proof-of-vaccination for travel initiative.

“That being said, in recent days, our office has received a number of complaints related to the government’s COVID-19 vaccination requirement for federal public servants. We will therefore be investigating the application of privacy principles in this context.”

He added that although the initiatives are distinct, the principles applicable to vaccine passports for travel and to the vaccination requirement for federal public servants are the same.

“It would therefore be inappropriate to offer conclusions until we have completed our investigations,” Therrien said.

“Given the complaints about the public service vaccination requirement are now the subject of ongoing investigations, no further details can be provided.”

Therrien said Friday that vaccine passports might offer significant public health benefits but they remain exceptional measures. “They should only be imposed after careful consideration of privacy and other human rights principles.”

In May, Therrien and his counterparts across the country said respect for laws and principles governing personal information must guide introduction of proof-of-vaccination certificates that could smooth the transition to post-pandemic life.

In the joint statement, federal, provincial and territorial privacy commissioners said that in order to be justified, vaccine passports must be necessary to achieve their intended public health purposes, and their effectiveness in meeting the goals should be evidence-based.

The commissioners also said privacy risks associated with the initiative must be proportionate to the purpose, the personal information collection limited, the data used only for the intended goal, and the program have an expiration date.

“The government has provided us with information relevant to each of these criteria,” Therrien said Friday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 22, 2021.

Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press

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COVID-19

Opposition leader to meet with freedom convoy leaders in Ottawa

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With a healthy Prime Minister Trudeau isolating due to covid protocol, Canada’s Opposition leader Erin O’Toole says he’s only too happy to meet with representatives of the Freedom Convoy.  Thursday as O’Toole emerged from a caucus meeting about the results of the last election, he swept aside all questions from the media and made a statement about the Freedom Convoy headed to the nation’s capital.

Saying he’s never seen the county so divided, O’Toole blamed the Prime Minister for stoking the division by refusing to even speak to the Truckers.  He went on to say the Conservatives have always opposed mandates, and that no Canadian should be losing their livelihood over their health decisions.

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Crowd gathers north of Toronto to cheer on trucker convoy heading to Ottawa

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TORONTO — A large crowd gathered outside a mall north of Toronto on Thursday as a group of local truckers prepared to join a convoy to Ottawa in protest of the federal government’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for cross-border drivers.

Some in the crowd threw cash and food up to truckers in their vehicles at the Vaughan Mills mall while others hoisted Canadian flags and signs protesting the government as the truckers gradually rolled out.

Mike Fabinski, a truck driver from Barrie, Ont., said the vaccine mandate means he won’t be able to work cross-border routes any more.

“You want to be vaccinated, go ahead, your choice. I don’t want to be vaccinated, that’s my choice,” he said.

Fabinski said he’s been a truck driver for 20 years but has not been able to travel to the U.S. since the federal mandate came to effect on Jan 15.

“I was going non-stop until they started last Saturday,” he said. “Now I cannot go. I cannot work no more.”

The federal government ended truckers’ exemption to the vaccine mandate two weeks ago meaning Canadian truck drivers need to be fully vaccinated if they want to avoid a two-week quarantine when they cross into Canada from the U.S.

Some with extreme, far-right views have latched onto the protest against the mandate. One online video includes a man expressing hope the rally will turn into the Canadian equivalent of the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol by supporters of former president Donald Trump.

On Thursday, some in the crowd that came out to support the truckers said they planned to join the convoy and make the trek to Ottawa as well.

Dean Brown said he supported peaceful protest intended by the convoy and rejected suggestions that it could lead to violence.

“The people who are in charge of this (convoy) are blocking people who are insisting or suggesting violence,” the 57-year-old Toronto man said.

“It’s all about peace. It’s all about freedom. It’s all about getting the Canadian way of life back. We are not here to turn it to violence.”

Ontario Provincial Police were urging drivers to be patient as several groups of truckers planned to drive across the province to Ottawa before a so-called “freedom rally” on Parliament Hill planned for Saturday.

Police spokesman Sgt. Kerry Schmidt said drivers should prepare for delays on Toronto-area highways, including Highway 401, Highway 400 and the Queen Elizabeth Way.

Police in Ottawa have said they are planning for as many as 2,000 demonstrators, and while protest leaders have been co-operative, there are concerns that far-right extremist groups that have attached themselves to the convoy could spark violence.

The Canadian Trucking Alliance, which has denounced the convoy protest, estimates that roughly 15 per cent of truckers — up to 16,000 — are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 27, 2022.

Maan Alhmidi, The Canadian Press

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