Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

François Legault

Québec Premier François Legault announced on January 11, 2022 that residents of the Canadian province will soon face fines for refusing Covid-19 vaccines. (Photo: Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

Québec Premier Vows Health Tax for the Unvaxxed

"We heavily tax cigarettes and alcohol," said one Canadian doctor. "So makes sense."

Brett Wilkins

As the Omicron-driven surge in coronavirus infections strains their nation's healthcare resources, Canadian progressives are balancing urgent public health concerns with respect for civil liberties after the province of Québec said Tuesday that it would begin levying fines on residents who refuse Covid-19 vaccinations.

"I think the government has still not exhausted other alternatives that are more equitable and more fair."

CBC reports Québec Premier François Legault announced that "adults who refuse to be vaccinated for non-medical reasons" will be hit with a "health contribution" of an indeterminate but significant amount—believed to be more than $50-$100—after the policy is set "in the coming weeks." 

"These people, they put a very important burden on our health-care network," Legault said of the unvaccinated. "I think it's reasonable a majority of the population is asking that there be consequences."

The Canadian Medical Association responded to Legault's announcement by tweeting "the measures announced today in Québec demonstrate how precarious the situation is. Get the vaccine. It is still the best tool we have in our arsenal."

Around 90% of Québecers have received at least one dose of coronavirus vaccination.

There is, however, pushback against the punitive policy among civil libertarians in terms of the way such a penalty could impact divergent segments of those choosing to remain unvaccinated.

Université de Montréal bioethics professor Vardit Ravitsky noted that a flat penalty—a regressive tax, in other words—"that targets all these groups the same... has a harder time respecting the principle of equity and justice compared to other measures the government could choose."

Unlike other parts of the world, like the 27-nation European Union, "we still have not implemented vaccine passports for all non-essential services," she told CBC.

Ravitsky addressed the equity issue during a Tuesday interview on CBC's "Politics & Power" program.

She said that "$100, $500, may not be a terrible price to pay for you or I, but for some families, it's a huge amount of money."

"It's not that I have issues with increasing the pressure on those who are not vaccinated by choice to go get the vaccine," Ravitsky clarified. " But I think the government has still not exhausted other alternatives that are more equitable and more fair."

Cara Zwibel, director of the fundamental freedoms program at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association—which opposes the tax—says the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects individual bodily and medical autonomy.

"Allowing the government to levy fines on those who do not agree with the government's recommended medical treatment is a deeply troubling proposition," she told CBC, calling the tax "divisive and constitutionally vulnerable."

The new policy comes as coronavirus infections have thinned the ranks of Québec's public health personnel, with CBC reporting some hospitals have canceled up to 80% of non-urgent and semi-urgent surgeries so that staff can care for Covid-19 patients.

Julius Grey, a Montréal-based constitutional and human rights attorney, told Global News that the proposed penalty could be contested in court.

"Discriminatory taxes can be challenged but I'm not sure that’s what this is," he said. "What Premier François Legault is trying to do is make vaccination obligatory."

On one hand, the government could argue that the benefits of fighting the Covid-19 pandemic—which is threatening to overwhelm the healthcare system—outweigh concerns over the erosion of individual liberty.

"On the other hand," said Grey, "people would say this is very serious violation of the Charter. It touches your personal integrity, physical integrity, by doing things to people they are not willing to have done."

Some European nations levy fines on people who refuse to submit to Covid-19 vaccination.

Austria currently imposes the most severe penalties—up to €3,600, or about $4,115—for unvaccinated people over age 14.

Greece has enacted a €100 ($115) monthly fine for unvaccinated people older than 60.

In Italy, people age 50 and older face fines as high as €1,600 ($1,830) if they enter their workplace while unvaccinated.

These measures come as the highly contagious Omicron variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus is driving an unprecedented surge in Covid-19 cases in many nations.

According to Johns Hopkins University's Coronavirus Resource Center, there were more than 17.1 million new reported infections worldwide on January 9, a nearly 300% increase from about a month ago. Over that same period, daily reported deaths around the world have declined by about 20%.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

ACLU Demands 'Truly Systemic Overhaul' of US Civilian Harm Policies

"While a serious Defense Department focus on civilian harm is long overdue and welcome, it's unclear that this directive will be enough," says director of the legal group's National Security Project.

Jessica Corbett ·

'This Is Not Over': Alaska Supreme Court Rejects Youth Climate Case

"With the state continuing to undermine their health, safety, and futures," said the plaintiffs' lead counsel, "we will evaluate our next steps and will continue to fight for climate justice."

Jessica Corbett ·

Analysis Finds 'Staggering' Rise in Voter Suppression After GOP Restrictions in Georgia

"This is why we are fighting this new law in court," said one voting rights advocate.

Brett Wilkins ·

'Egregious': Pennsylvania Court Strikes Down Mail-In Voting Law

The ruling was stayed pending an appeal to the state's Supreme Court and as one voting advocate put it: "The fight's not over yet, folks."

Julia Conley ·

Big Win for Open Internet as Court Upholds California Net Neutrality Law

One legal advocate called the Ninth Circuit's opinion "a great decision and a major victory for internet users in California and nationwide."

Kenny Stancil ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.

Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo