Quebec's anti-corruption unit says it is carrying out a "large-scale" investigation into cases of alleged fraud related to the production and sale of false COVID-19 vaccine passports.
The police force, known as UPAC, warned that people who produce, sell or use false COVID-19 vaccination documents could face criminal charges, including breach of trust and corruption, and charges under the Public Health Act.
UPAC said in a news release Wednesday it was looking at a number of different fraudulent strategies being used but it did not elaborate, saying it did not want to compromise the ongoing probe.
Mathieu Galarneau, a spokesman for UPAC, confirmed the unit had opened about 30 investigations into alleged fake passports. The force's mandate is to root out corruption, including illegality involving government employees and elected officials.
Quebecers are forced to show proof of vaccination before they can enter restaurants, bars, gyms and entertainment venues, which have been closed since December to reduce COVID-19 transmission. The government this week extended the vaccine passport to liquor and cannabis stores, which remain open during the lockdown. The passports will be required at big-box stores starting next week.
Galarneau said he could not confirm how many false passports may have been produced, but he said the investigation is "of a large scale."
No charges have been laid.
Galarneau said the unit does not usually comment on ongoing probes but made an exception because "we believe it's a serious crime that negatively affects citizens’ sense of security in the middle of a pandemic."
UPAC's statement followed recent reports by La Presse and Radio-Canada that found employees at vaccination sites had allegedly been paid to register unvaccinated people as having been vaccinated.
Health Minister Christian Dubé said Thursday the government has always known that fraud is a possibility given the number of employees in the network. He said his department contacted UPAC about alleged cases of passport fraud shortly after the system was first rolled out in September.
"It’s unfortunate that some employees have done what they’ve done," he told reporters in Montreal.
He said there could be criminal charges, "not only for the people who have done those passports, but the people who have purchased them."
Dubé said the government updated the smartphone application required to verify passports to recognize the fake documents.
Public Safety Minister Geneviève Guilbault told Radio-Canada Thursday morning that various police forces in the province have opened about 150 investigations into fake vaccination documents.
She said UPAC is investigating cases involving fraud or attempted fraud by government employees and that provincial and municipal police are looking into users and sellers outside government. False passports will be deactivated, she said, adding that those found using them could face charges.
Galarneau encouraged anyone who had information about false passports to contact UPAC.