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Local business bombarded by hateful emails about incoming vaccine passports

Barrie business owners say people are trying to 'bully us into using our business as a tool for political activism,' while local MPPs say new requirements should prevent further lockdowns

A Barrie business owner says they have been receiving profanity-laced emails from people regarding the province's new vaccine certificate requirements  which come into effect Wednesday  in an attempt to exert their "political will."

As of Sept. 22, Ontarians wanting to enter certain non-essential businesses will be required to show proof they are fully vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus. The certificates are commonly referred to as 'vaccine passports'.

The provincial edict requires residents to be fully vaccinated which means two doses plus 14 days  and provide their proof of vaccination along with ID to access certain public settings and facilities that are considered higher-risk indoor settings where masks can’t always be worn.

Many local business owners have been preparing for the change by sending emails to notify their customers of the incoming requirements.

While some customers have taken the changes in stride, others have been less than understanding, says Mike Moore, owner of Alt. Rock in Barrie, who says his climbing facility has been the target of hateful emails in response to the government mandate.

The Dunlop Street business has been diligently following the government’s guidelines in order to be open, including more recently, letting patrons know they are required to show proof of vaccination in order to use the facility, which they did via their regular digital newsletter, Moore said.

But the pushback was immediate, he says.

“Within that first hour, I think we had about 20 emails and they continue to roll in,” he told BarrieToday, adding the messages are all very similar in wording.

“They’re not one-liners. There were a few just swearing, basically, but most of them were similar in their intent. I don’t know if there’s a message out there that one of the tactics... that people should be using to assert their political will is to  at least from my point of view as a business owner  bully us into using our business as a tool for political activism.”

Reading the emails is heartbreaking, Moore said, especially since the majority are being sent by individuals who are not part of the Alt. Rock “community,” but rather from those who’ve attended the gym only a few times since it opened in December 2017.

Others have come from those who have never even walked through the door, he said. 

“From the ones who had been here, it started with something positive like 'we loved your facility, our children enjoyed it' or whatever, but then on to words like 'disgusting' and 'shameful.' Almost all of them used the term 'discriminating' saying we were discriminating against a group," Moore said.

While Moore says there's a small group who have expressed their appreciation for following the guidelines, he estimates for every 20 negative comments that have come in the business might get one supporting them.

“I wish people would understand that, according to each business's circumstances, you may or may not be able to express a personal belief based on your economic reality," he told BarrieToday. "We were a start-up… (and) businesses like ours don’t tend to make any money until about Year 3 or 4 and we are not there. We cannot afford to use our business in that way.”

The penalties for failing to comply with the law can result in charges under the Reopening Ontario Act, as well as fines of $750 for individuals and $1,000 for corporations. People who are considered an officer or director of a corporation, or the corporation itself, could face much stiffer penalties. 

Everyone should have the freedom to choose whatever they want to do with their business, added Moore.

“If they want to express a political opinion, that's their prerogative. A lot of this stuff that’s coming in is about freedom of choice, so I wish people would support our freedom to choose the path that might lead us through to the end of this," said Moore.

Barrie-Innisfil MPP Andrea Khanjin told BarrieToday the vaccination certificate will hopefully help prevent additional lockdowns.

“I think most people recognize that they don’t want any more lockdowns and that this is a tool we can use," she said. "It’s to protect the economy for those non-essential businesses.

“For a lot of people, this just helps them give that extra layer of protection and safety," Khanjin added. 

While the MPP says there has been some confusion as to how businesses are to implement the vaccine certificates, she said those concerns are being addressed.

“There was some confusion as to whether businesses would need to have a new system in order to scan the barcodes. We assured them once they downloaded the QR Code Scan app, which will be available Oct. 22, they can download it on any tablet or phone so they don’t have to buy a special device," Khanjin said. "There’s no added costs and unlike Quebec, we are working to ensure that our app doesn’t require cellphone data usage.”

Other jurisdictions that have implemented something similar have been successful in avoiding lockdowns during the fourth wave with the delta variant, she said. 

“If you look around the world, that’s a tool that has worked if it’s implemented in a timely order," Khanjin said. "Businesses have to choose between closing their doors or asking for a vaccine certificate. For the most part, all of them are fine to ask for a certificate.

“Yes, they’re wondering how the roll out is going to work, (but) there’s been more clarity from the government," she added. "We tried to make this as straightforward and easy to use as possible and we’ve narrowed it down to a very small selection of businesses that are not essential who were hurt previously by excessive lockdowns because we had to protect our ICU capacity in hospitals.”

Barrie-Springwater-Oro-Medonte MPP Doug Downey, who is also the province's attorney general, has been hearing a variety of comments from constituents, which he said was to be expected. 

“There’s been a full range of opinions and we are taking input at our office and I am happy to take them," he said. "They help inform me… when I am at the cabinet table when we are having discussions about where we go and how we go there. 

“It’s something that a lot of provinces are now adopting. As the app is being built, security is top priority.”

For more information on the new requirements around vaccine certificates, click here.