Fake medical-exemption badges for people looking to sidestep public-health orders are starting to show up in Manitoba.
In one case, a woman visiting a big-box store said she was able to convince employees who asked her to put on a mask that she was exempt, using a badge she purchased online.
"I was asked twice, and I specifically pointed to my badge and said I had a medical exemption. Everyone left and said, ‘Thank you, sorry about that,’" she said in a social media post sent to the Free Press Tuesday. "Stand up people, now’s the time."
The website she recommends others purchase the badge from is bare-bones, with just a small description and a simple checkout system. The professional-looking laminated badges read: "I have a medical condition that prevents me from wearing a mask or face covering," and have small images of the Canadian flag and a caduceus — the medical symbol of two snakes curled around a winged staff.
A French version is available, along with one displaying an American flag. All three are selling for $10. A fourth option, listed as "Rally" and offering no other information, is priced at $500.
“Proof of your medical condition is not required in order to purchase. Mask exempt persons who wear this card report feeling an immediate boost in self confidence and empowerment when accessing public services.” – Website
"Proof of your medical condition is not required in order to purchase," the website reads. "Mask exempt persons who wear this card report feeling an immediate boost in self confidence and empowerment when accessing public services."
The site says the badges are sent free in "letter mail" and expedited shipping is available for another $20. Funds are sent to someone named Patrick McNulty, but the location is not provided.
There are no valid medical exemption cards in Manitoba, a spokesperson from the province said Wednesday.
"Enforcement officials use professional judgment in every case and do not ask for proof of a mask exemption in the form of a medical certificate. Manitobans wishing to access specific services or venues are required to show proof of vaccination," the spokesperson said in an email.
"If an individual receives a citation for not wearing a mask, they would then have the opportunity to go before a judge to support a claim of a valid medical reason."
Some versions of fake medical exemption cards shared on social media include contact information for the Canadian Human Rights Commission to report "violations of disability rights" that may arise while using the card. In a response to someone sharing their concerns about the card on social media, a representative from the Canadian Human Rights Commission confirmed the group was not associated with the producers of medical exemption cards.
"These are fake. The Commission has not and would not produce posters or cards claiming that the cardholder has an exemption from wearing a face mask in closed public places," the CHRC previously tweeted. "We strongly recommend to Canadians that they do not share or use these fraudulent cards."
Manitoba’s guidance on who is exempt from masks is basic — anyone who cannot wear one, shouldn’t. The province’s website offers examples, including children under the age of five, someone unable to put it on or take it off without assistance and people who are "actively having breathing difficulties."
Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce president Loren Remillard said he’s heard many stories from his members about patrons claiming they’re exempt from the mandate, but the use of a fake badge was new to him.
"We would hope that all Manitobans appreciate that the best way you can help a business is to patronize that business, but don't put them in a position where you're exposing them to a potential fine," he said. "Businesses are trying to, with the information they have, make the best sense of it as they can, and trying to comply. And it's unfortunate that there may be instances where they’re operating with best intention and people are able to circumvent that and potentially expose that business to a fine."
He’s been told the province is working on a more streamlined way to prove medical exemptions to businesses and hopes the process moves quicker to avoid both misunderstandings and fraudsters.
"We really hope the province is able to move expeditiously to be able to really articulate that process and the proof-of-exemption documentation that businesses can recognize as valid government identification," he said.
"For those that are seeking to use a homemade card to circumvent the public-health orders, the easiest way to be able to get into that establishment is to get vaccinated, get your vaccination card and enter that place of business fully compliant with the public-health orders and doing what's really best for your community."
Malak Abas is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.