Quebec’s plan to tax adults who choose to remain unvaccinated against COVID-19 is already being called “constitutionally weak” by critics – but experts say The province is within its rights, and the challenges are likely to fail.
Details about the proposed tax are thin, but Premier Francois Legault said on Tuesday that the penalty would be “significant”. Those with medical exemptions will be exempted from the tax.
Legal experts say that provinces have the constitutional right to impose a direct tax to pay for services such as health care, and that from a fairness standpoint, to force those who burden the health care system more. put.
“They’re not taking away people’s liberties, they just require people to pay a price if they take the risk,” said David Duff, a professor at the University of British Columbia’s Peter A. Allard School of Law.
“If the health care system were financed through private insurance, which is priced based on risk, one would expect to see higher premiums without vaccination. That’s a clear risk.”
Quebec to tax people who are unaffected by COVID-19
The tax is being proposed as Quebec faces an unprecedented strain on its health care system due to the highly permeable Omicron variant, sending more people to the hospital than at any other point during the pandemic.
As of Tuesday, more than 2,700 people were in hospital with COVID-19, including 255 patients in intensive care. There were 62 more deaths on Tuesday alone.
Legault noted that half of people in intensive care have not been vaccinated — even though that group comprises 10 percent of the adult population.
Duff says that although the prospect of taxing people for not getting a vaccine may be unprecedented, the tax system has long been used to encourage people’s behavior through credits or relief.
“We get a tax break on investing in our retirement, why? Because (the government) wants to encourage it.” “You give to charity, you get something back. It’s like that.
“Will it affect people’s behavior? It’s just a matter of watching.”
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While the tax is unprecedented in Canada, similar measures have been introduced by other countries. Austria announced in December that vaccine holders over the age of 13 would have to pay a fine of up to 3,600 euros (5,139 Canadian dollars) every three months. Starting this month, Greece will fine residents 60 years of age and older who refuse the vaccine at 100 euros (CA$142) per month. And in Italy, residents 50 and older are now required to be vaccinated or face fines of up to 1,600 euros (CA$2,287).
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It remains to be seen whether such policies will promote vaccination in those countries. But Devon Grayson, assistant professor in the School of Population and Public Health at the University of British Columbia, says the impact may not be as big as Quebec officials are hoping.
They point to studies in B.C., which found that most people supported policies that improve vaccine access and information, with little to no incentives like cash payments to get the support shot. Dipped – and it fell when respondents were asked about punishing holdouts.
“It’s reasonable to think that this could result in a short-term increase in vaccination, but I think the questions are more about the long-term effects and the ethics of proceeding that way,” he said.
“I think it’s interesting that this comes after Quebec supported a vaccine mandate for health care workers, who would be a greater source of infection than the general population.”
Greyson says it will be important for the Quebec government to ensure that vaccination is accessible to all sections of the population – including low-income and ethnic residents – before penalizing vaccination.
It is also a major concern of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, which released a statement Tuesday evening predicting that “divisive measures … will penalize and isolate those who need public health assistance and services.” may be needed the most.”
“We don’t fix individuals who make poor diet and exercise choices, who choose high-risk occupations or recreational activities,” said Acting General Counsel Kara Zwiebel. “Some essential services – such as basic health care for sick people – go beyond such individual options.”
In an interview, Zwiebel said the tax could also violate Canada and Quebec’s protections of the physical autonomy of individuals covered in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
“You have to ask, is that fair?” he said. “The burden is on the government to prove that they have a pressing and substantial objective that (they) are trying to achieve and that is a proportionate response to that. And the government has not stated what the objective is. “
Legault did not explicitly say that his goal with the tax was to increase immunization, but his government has repeatedly stressed the importance of immunizations to mitigate epidemics and reduce pressure on the health care system.
COVID-19: Constitutional expert weighs in on Quebec health tax
Constitutional law experts also say the proposed tax would not limit people’s access to health care the way non-vaccinated patients would be charged for services, clearing the limits set by the Canada Health Act.
Stephen Bulac, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Montreal, told Global News that any legal challenge against the tax would be based on discriminatory arguments, which would be difficult to succeed.
“The problem is that under the Canadian Charter or the Quebec Charter … there are specific grounds for discrimination that are prohibited,” he said. “And last time I checked, there’s nothing specifically addressing one’s vaccination status.
“In other words, choosing not to vaccinate, under Canadian and Quebec law, is something that is within the purview of freedom, of one’s liberty. But that doesn’t mean that if there is a remedy that is for oneself. goes against the election made, it would be discrimination.”
Alberta and British Columbia said on Tuesday they would not follow Quebec’s lead and introduce financial penalties for people without vaccinations.
Duff says the province and others will still be watching how the proposed tax plays out in Quebec – and whether it makes a difference in the fight against the pandemic.
“Whether others follow, we’ll see,” he said. “But I doubt it will move that fast.”
— With files from Global Montreal and the Canadian Press
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