Some Ontario businesses believe vaccine passports will avoid them going bankrupt

TORONTO — The owner of a storied Toronto music venue says its revenues are a tenth of what they were before the pandemic — and a vaccine passport might be one way to stop live music venues from going bankrupt.

Jeff Cohen of The Horseshoe Tavern — where top acts have played for more than 70 years — says his and other venues are hoping the province implements a vaccine passport as one way to move on from the capacity limits of Stage 3 of Ontario’s reopening plan.

“We’re open to 11 per cent of our capacity,” Cohen said. From a health perspective, maybe we shouldn’t be at 100 per cent capacity, but 11 per cent is crazy. We’re struggling.”

“Staying in Stage 3 until February? You’re going to see live music venues go bankrupt,” he said.

The Horseshoe Tavern has an outdoor patio and tables inside that are spaced apart, he said. But it’s hard to attract bands to play for a seated audience, and on top of that, many bands are not playing shows without vaccine passports, he said.

“It gives confidence to the ticket buyer, and it makes bands and staff feel good,” he said. “If there are 300 bands in Toronto you have maybe 20 of them playing right now.”

A vaccine passport would require someone to prove they have been vaccinated to enter non-essential venues such as restaurants and concert halls.

One has been implemented in Quebec, and will soon be a reality in Manitoba and B.C.

Alberta, Saskatchewan and PEI have implemented a standardized vaccination card, but have not attached it to any requirements to enter a venue.

Other Atlantic provinces and Ontario have no stated plans to implement vaccine passports, though sources say with an announcement this week, things could change.

In the meantime, an app gold rush has begun as different companies vie to be a provider for such a service. 

Dr. Elaine Chin of Innovation Health Group is pitching its app as a solution to track multiple streams of vaccine data securely.

“No one is safe until all of us are safe and with the variants we need everyone to be vaccinated, and prove they’re vaccinated to go indoors, as we go to the winter,” she said.

Cohen said he wants to implement his own vaccine passport plan — but is also hoping to avoid the backlash and protests that have come to more outspoken venues.

“We’d like to see everyone do it at once,” he said. “We don’t want to be the guinea pig that steps forward but we do believe in it 100 per cent.”

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