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Yukon privacy commissioner releases guidance for ‘vaccine passports’

The government did not consult with the privacy commissioner over border changes
Yukon’s Information and Privacy Commissioner Diane McLeod-McKay sits for a photo in Whitehorse on Feb. 3. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

The Yukon’s Privacy Commissioner has weighed in on the idea of vaccine passports with guidelines released May 19.

Commissioner Diane McLeod-McKay joined her colleagues from across Canada in releasing a joint statement on May 19 that said passport vaccines or other verification systems must safeguard privacy concerns and only be used to achieve public health measures.

“Vaccine passports must be developed and implemented in compliance with applicable privacy laws. They should also incorporate privacy best practices in order to achieve the highest level of privacy protection commensurate with the sensitivity of the personal health information that will be collected, used or disclosed,” reads the statement.

The Yukon is set to change its current border restrictions on May 25. Under the new rules Canadians who are fully vaccinated (two vaccine doses plus the waiting period) are not required to self-isolate when coming to the territory from Outside.

However, travellers will be required to provide documentation and must also sign a document allowing the government to verify the information via health records.

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley said the system for verifying vaccines would be straightforward for the Yukon and B.C. but was still being figured out for other jurisdictions.

On May 18 on the floor of the legislature, following questions from Yukon Party opposition members, Health Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee said the government had not consulted with the privacy commissioner regarding the new changes to the border, but called it an “extremely live issue.”

“This work is ongoing; it is being done as we speak,” McPhee said.

On May 20, the Yukon Party proposed an unsuccessful motion that called for the government to “immediately consult with Yukon’s Information and Privacy Commissioner on the details of the proposed measures.”

“While the government has not called this a ‘vaccine passport’, the intention of their proposal is substantively the same as that,” said Brad Cathers. “The joint statement that was issued yesterday by the Yukon Information and Privacy Commissioner along with privacy commissioners across the country emphasized that, if a government is proceeding with such an initiative, passports or other similar documents must meet the highest level of privacy protection.”

The emergency motion introduced by Cathers was voted down in the House.

In an interview on May 20, McLeod-McKay said she would welcome a conversation with the government about the changes.

“I believe in being proactive, I would much rather work with the department to try and make sure that the law is being complied with,” she said.

McLeod-McKay said she has worked closely with the department of health and social services, particularly around COVID-19 contact tracing efforts, and plans to raise the topic of vaccine verification during a standing meeting.

“We do work quite closely together. So I will be raising that issue with them and hopefully I get a positive response,” she said.

The statement released by the group of privacy commissioners does not apply specifically to the Yukon’s border changes, but instead provides wide-ranging advice on vaccine verification and passport documents.

McLeod-McKay said that kind of advice applies to both government and private businesses — such as restaurants or health providers — when it comes to restricting people’s actions based on vaccine status. She said it is also important that any collected information follows a secure system to dispose of any collected data in a timely manner.

The guidance states that vaccine passports must be backed by legal authority.

Contact Haley Ritchie at