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People participate in a demonstration in Montreal, Sunday, December 20, 2020, protesting measures implemented by the Quebec government to help stop the spread of COVID-19. The COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world.Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press

Thousands of protesters marched through the streets of Montreal on Saturday to denounce the Quebec government’s decision to impose a vaccine passport system in a bid to slow the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ralliers called for the government to revoke its decision or hold a public debate on the system, which is set to come into effect on Sept. 1 and will require people show proof of vaccination to access some non-essential services with high degrees of contact, such as at festivals, bars, restaurants and gyms.

Quebec to implement COVID-19 vaccine passport system

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Premier Francois Legault has rejected the idea of a debate, saying it would expose Quebecers to inaccurate, dangerous conspiracy theories about vaccines.

But event co-ordinator Jonathan Hamelin said the government was not respecting and listening to Quebecers.

“We want a public debate,” Hamelin said. “As long as Quebec censors them, we will continue to protest.”

Quebec opposition parties also denounced the provincial government’s refusal to hold a debate on Thursday, saying it reflects a larger problem with its use of emergency powers.

“While we are in favour of swiftly implementing a vaccine passport to avoid further worsening the situation, we can also debate the modalities without hindering its implementation,” Liberal health critic Marie Montpetit said in an emailed statement.

“It is the role of the Members of the National Assembly to hold these debates and we are available to do so immediately. Francois Legault must cease refusing such debates because he dislikes hearing opinions other than his own.”

Debate on vaccine passports would expose Quebecers to conspiracy theories, Legault says

The association behind Saturday’s rally, Quebec Debout, has been known to protest COVID-19 public health measures. Montreal police spokeswoman Caroline Chevrefils said the protesters were co-operating with the police.

One of the protesters, Zach Ouellette, 31, said he also felt Quebec had the responsibility to consult with residents before imposing the vaccine passport.

“We ask to have options,” Ouellette said. “We are supposed to have the right to a debate, but Legault has been refusing it to us since the beginning. It lacks transparency.”

Families and friends walked peacefully under the heavy police presence.

Providence Jolicoeur was among the protesters. She and her family drove from Sherbrooke, two hours away from Montreal.

“It was important for us to come down because we are going to be suppressed,” Jolicoeur said. “The government needs to let us have our rights.”

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