"Therefore, we are considering the issue of imposing health tax that will be paid by all adults who refuse vaccination for non-medical reasons," he said. (Related: Austrian bureaucrat wants to financially punish unvaccinated citizens for non-compliance.)
"Those who refuse to get the shot bring a financial burden to hospital staff and Quebecers. The 10% of the population can’t burden the 90%," Legault said.
However, advocates working with Black and Indigenous communities say that a proposal to make unvaccinated adults pay a financial penalty further entrenches inequities in the pandemic response and that it adds another burden for the marginalized groups.
It could pose a problem for people who have been hesitant to receive the vaccine because of historic and present-day injustices as they face systemic barriers in accessing the vaccine.
Black Health Alliance executive director Paul Bailey said that in parts of the country, such as Toronto and Montreal, there are populations that have a high COVID burden and lower COVID vaccination.
These populations, such as the Black, racialized and low- to very low-income are already living in poverty and many other inequities, whether it be food insecurity or housing insecurity. "For this specific population, applying a tax to them only further entrenches those inequalities," he said.
Governments around the world have imposed different restrictions on the unvaccinated, but sweeping tax is a rare and controversial one. Citing the financial burden that unvaccinated people are already putting on the system, Legault said that the tax would likely be up to CA$100, or around $80. However, this will not apply to those who can't get vaccinated for medical reasons.
Provinces in Canada have been experiencing exponential surges in COVID-19 cases because of the arrival of the omicron variant, and Quebec is among the worst hit by the strain. Last month, the province said that it had "no choice" but to allow essential workers to continue working despite testing positive for the virus to prevent staff shortages and from stopping healthcare services altogether.
However, this will remain to be seen, as a tax on the unvaccinated would be challenged in court, and its approval will depend on the details.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that the federal government has already secured enough vaccine doses for all eligible Canadians to receive booster shots, and even a fourth dose, if necessary.
This move follows the abrupt resignation of a senior health official in the province amidst mounting anger on lockdowns and the slow rollout of vaccine boosters. The official, Dr. Horacio Arruda, served his role for 12 years and was reappointed to another three-year term in June 2020, but faced mounting criticism in recent weeks.
Arruda, face condemnation for allowing care home staff to move between sites in the first wave of the pandemic, a decision that played a significant role in the spread of the virus and contributed to over 4,000 deaths.
Arruda was also faulted for his dismissal of the benefits of using N95 masks when he said that they were not necessary for teachers or healthcare workers. Quebec's worker safety board agreed with his stance and recently ordered healthcare workers to be provided with the more effective masks.
New lockdown measures and government-ordered curfews forced Quebecers to deal with the fact that their province is again one of the worst-hit regions in the country. Dr. Donald Vinh, an infectious disease specialist at the McGill University health center said, "I’m not going to mince words: things are bad right now when it comes to hospitalizations. Every time there’s a ceiling, in terms of hospital capacity, the hospitalization rate breaks through that ceiling."
Quebec is already in hot water when it made headlines last week for requiring cannabis shops and liquor stores to card their customers for proof of vaccination, leading to a surge in bookings.
The health minister estimated last week that hospitals were down 20,000 healthcare workers in the past week due to COVID-19 infections, and around 50,000 are on leave due to burnout.
"The virus is going to continue to propagate here until we get it under control, and wishful thinking isn’t how we’re going to fight it," Vinh said.
Watch the video below to learn more about the tax proposal.
This video is from the Lumiere channel on Brighteon.com.
Get more news and updates about how governments are handling COVID-19 at Pandemic.news.