The debate surrounding the need for COVID-19 vaccine passports continues, but it seems some people are already looking for ways around the system.
There are multiple reports of fake vaccine cards and passports emerging online — sold on the dark web for hundreds of dollars, and some as low as “the price of peanuts.”
On Amazon.ca, you can get a pack of 10 blank CDC cards for just $18.98. Lanyards and card protectors come at an extra charge.
In Canada, many wonder how easy it may be to reproduce their proof of inoculation.
In Manitoba, inoculated residents receive an immunization card with a scannable QR code.
Meanwhile, vaccinated Ontarians are handed — or emailed — a sheet of paper with seemingly no security features, just the patient and doctor’s info.
“I think there’s a good reason to worry, but I’m not at all surprised,” said Karen Wendling, an associate professor at University of Guelph who often discusses medical ethics.
“From a Canadian perspective, we can be worried that there are going to be non-vaccinated Americans trying to cross the border.”
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Altering or recreating a legitimate document (like a vaccine card), with the intent of using it as real, is a federal crime.
“This can be liable to a variety of offences under the Criminal Code of Canada” said SuJung Lee, criminal defence lawyer at Daniel Brown Law.
“The most applicable, I would say, offence for these types of actions would probably be forgery.”
Lee says this can land you between 18 months and 10 years behind bars. Possessing, using or trafficking the forged document would count as separate offences.
If financial loss is involved, you can also be charged with fraud. That’s between two and 14 years behind bars if convicted, depending on the circumstances of the case.
Due to the devastating global impact of COVID-19, though, Lee suspects courts will go for maximum penalties to those found guilty.
“These types of offences, if they come to the forefront, is something that courts will probably take very very seriously…. They’ll want to signal to the community that (they) will not go unpunished.”
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When asked if forged proof of COVID-19 vaccinations was used to enter the country, a spokesperson with the Canada Border Services Agency told Global News: “(CBSA) is aware that some travellers may attempt to use fraudulent documentation when seeking entry to Canada.”
In an email to Global on Tuesday, the CBSA added that 591 travellers arriving in Canada (237 travellers by air and 354 by land) were referred to the Public Health Agency of Canada for “issues related to their proof of vaccination.” This includes people whose proof of vaccination needed further verification, or if they did not meet required criteria, like vaccine date or vaccine type. Note that these numbers are between July 5, when proof of vaccine became required for Canadians and permanent resident travellers, and July 18.
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The CBSA would not say how many individuals were suspected to be carrying forged vaccine cards, if any.
When asked how border agents would be able to tell a real vaccine card from a fake one with no security features within the cards, the CBSA would not specify, responding: “Border services officers (BSO) are trained in examination techniques and use indicators, intelligence, and other information to determine a person’s admissibility to Canada. This includes confirming that the documentation required to be found admissible or to meet the criteria for modified public health measures is valid and authentic.”
“All travellers should be aware that providing false information to a Government of Canada official upon entry to Canada or making false or fraudulent attempts is a serious offence and may result in penalties and/or criminal charges,” the agency added.
Nonetheless, Canadians are divided on whether or not proof of vaccine should be required in the first place, with some calling it an “ethical dilemma.”
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“The answer is yes, I do believe they should be required. People have been dying from (COVID-19),” said Wendling. “For going across countries, there just is no doubt that’s going to be required.”
Wendling also stressed the need to prove you’re vaccinated in high-risk congregate settings, or in crowded spaces like concerts. However, she thinks this could only be justified for a disease as deadly and far-spreading as COVID-19.
“When it’s a pandemic, you just don’t have the right to harm others,” she said.
Meanwhile, Nancy Walton questions whether a blanket requirement for all scenarios is actually going to work.
“It’s always important to look at the context,” said Walton, the associate dean of graduate studies at Ryerson University and the director of the Daphne Cockwell School of Nursing.
“If we’re looking at a context like a health-care environment, a hospital, a long-term care centre — yes the pros outweigh the cons, definitely. We have an obligation and it’s justified to require health-care workers to be vaccinated.”
But in other contexts like workplaces, concerts, grocery stores or malls, Walton says there are other available options to consider, short of demanding vaccine proof.
“Distancing, personal protective equipment, masking, physical barriers.”
Walton also says inadequate and inequitable access to vaccines, especially in poorer countries, may be a deciding factor on travel restrictions.
“There’s been a lot of discussion about the global supply, and of course that requiring vaccination as part of travel then further restricts people who may already be disadvantaged … so you’re putting additional burdens on people.”
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Either way, both Walton and Welding say health officials need to come up with some kind of way to authenticate COVID-19 vaccine cards — as some cybersecurity experts say the demand for forged cards will grow on the dark web.
“There has to be something. It’s not recreating the wheel,” said Walton.
“If I’m going to Germany, for instance, I hope they ask me for something more secure than my printout from Ontario,” said Wendling.
Meanwhile, Lee says being charged with forgery or fraud for faking a vaccine card can be challenged in court, as can any charge.
However, it would be “very difficult” to show the court that being demanded proof of vaccine infringes on your everyday rights.
“In everyday life, we see instances where requiring proof of other kinds of identifying documents — such as driver’s licences to access public or private services — are a commonplace occurrence that are not necessarily rights-infringing, but a cost, for example, of living harmoniously in society.”
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