Enforcing new vaccine mandate frustrates some Quebec retailers

Quebecers headed to IKEA, Walmart, Costco, Canadian Tire and other big retail stores now have to show proof of vaccination and government-issued ID at the door.

The new measure, introduced on Monday, effectively limits people who haven’t received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine to purchasing only essential goods — and it’s already frustrating those who have to enforce it.

“There are several reasons we’re disappointed,” said Patrick Delisle, head of marketing for Quebec hardware chain Canac. “First of all, we would’ve liked to be treated as an essential service — we’ve been essential since the beginning of the pandemic.”

The ministerial decree applies to stores with a surface area of 1,500 square metres or more, with the exception of grocery stores, pharmacies and gas stations. Health Minister Christian Dubé says the expanded vaccine mandate is meant to encourage more people to get vaccinated.

Delisle says retail stores are bearing the brunt of provincial policy.

“We’re not going to ask someone who’s dealing with water damage [in their home] if they’re vaccinated or not,” he said. “It’s really frustrating to have to manage clients living situations like that … it’s not our job.”

High costs, unfair competition, angry customers

On top of customer service challenges, businesses say they’re being dealt a significant financial burden. Canac says it will cost around $100,000 a week to enforce the measure in its 31 stores across Quebec.

For Simon Gagnon, owner of a Sports Experts franchise in Sherbrooke, Quebec’s labour shortage was already making it tough to find staff. Now he says he faces the “colossal challenge” of hiring security guards and employees to scan vaccine passports and he fears he may lose some of his customers.

“What scares us is that instead of lining up, people will go shop somewhere else,” he said, adding that he feels the province is creating unfair competition between larger retailers and smaller stores that don’t have to enforce the new rules.

Delisle says Canac has dealt with more angry clients in the weeks leading up to the new vaccine mandate than it has throughout the entire pandemic.

“We’re just the messenger … it’s not us who decided to do it,” he said. “We’re getting a lot of messages from people on social media pouring their hearts out — to put it politely.”

Few exceptions

Some people who work in construction had hoped for an exemption that would have allowed unvaccinated workers to pick up building supplies but the government refused.

Quebec’s construction association asked its members to respect the new measure. It said the 10 per cent of employees who aren’t vaccinated could look at alternatives such as having items delivered to a work site or visiting a smaller store.

There is one notable exception in the ministerial decree that was issued Sunday night: people who aren’t fully vaccinated can visit pharmacies inside bigger stores that fall under the new rules. To do so, they’ll have to be accompanied by an employee on their way in and out.

Quebec’s Retail Council says its members had to scramble to move around schedules and to put staff their front doors Monday.

The council is asking customers to be patient as businesses adjust to the new requirements. It says it hopes the measure is temporary and that the government will give retailers a timeline for when it could be phased out.

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