Preface: Nuance is essential when discussing COVID-19 policy. I don’t think anyone can argue that we should be protecting our most vulnerable. That debate is over and that’s not what the conversation should be about.
COVID-19 Policy Has Damaged Our Democracy
The consequences of government mandates lockdowns are plenty, and throwing my hat in the ring is likely not useful at this point. The point I want to raise today has to do with the rights guaranteed to us by our constitutions and the long-term legal consequences of overriding those for the sake of public health.
Now, I’m Canadian so I will be writing this from a Canadian point of view. If you’re American, the ideas still apply but the legislature is different.
In my view, one of the most damaging aspects of COVID-19 policy is the relationship our lawmakers have with the Canadian Constitution. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees certain liberties to everyone in Canada. Over the past year, provincial governments have succeeded in writing policies that ignore these constitutional rights.
These policies have primarily gone unchallenged up to this point with a few exceptions. The reason is that we’re good Canadians and we want to do our part in protecting our most vulnerable.
What COVID-19 Policies Have Violated the Canadian Constitution?
Specifically, every Canadian is guaranteed fundamental freedoms in section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Those fundamental freedoms are:
- freedom of conscience and religion;
- freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;
- freedom of peaceful assembly; and
- freedom of association.
As far as religion goes, governments have successfully shuttered churches across the country despite protests from those affected. If your religion involves worshipping in a house of God, the government has diminished your ability to practice your faith. Many churches adopted a drive-in style of worship where no one was allowed to leave their vehicles. Drive-in churches were also blocked by the government for seemingly no reason. Keep in mind, during this period you were allowed to go to Tim Hortons or Walmart every day.
When the government regulated maximum gathering sizes, freedom of peaceful assembly may as well have been removed from the constitution entirely. Because of these maximum gathering size policies, you no longer have agency over yourself and your associations.
If the Government Is Protecting People, What’s the Problem?
We, as a culture, have shown our elected officials that we are willing to give away our rights. Today, that might be in the name of public health but in the future, it may not be the case.
For example, if you held an unpopular political viewpoint, a reasonable argument could be made that those ideas are against public health. Would it be right for the government to target you for your ideology and segregate you? For example, school shootings are a danger to public health. If you oppose gun control, then someone could make the argument that your interactions with others should be limited in the interest of public health.
On the flip side, there’s no reason why an extremist right-leaning politician couldn’t be elected and declare liberalism against the interest of public health.
Obviously, these things aren’t likely to happen today, but the issue is that our constitution is becoming a non-binding piece of legislation. When the constitution is not respected, anything can happen.
The government closed churches in the interest of public health and protecting citizens from COVID-19. Terrorism events like the September 11th attacks are unquestionably against public health – would it be right for the government to close churches to impede the Muslim community from endangering the public?
Absolutely not but when the right to religion isn’t respected, future politicians with proclivities towards authoritarianism may suggest something similar.
While this sounds crazy, it is currently happening in France. The government is targeting mosques for anti-government sentiments.
Another layer to this is how the restrictions only apply to the general public and not government officials. During the holidays, many government officials took vacations out of the country or had large gatherings with friends and families. This means that you, as a citizen, are a separate class from the ruling class, and the rules that govern your life do not apply to them.
Today we bend the rules to protect people from COVID-19, but in the future, we may bend the rules to protect people from political groups, ethnic minorities, religions, or any number of other groups.
Ontario is setting another dangerous precedent with its vaccine passports.
If you’re not familiar with the situation, the Ontario government will issue passports to those who have received the COVID-19 vaccine and allow them special privileges. This is a clear-cut example of discrimination based on your medical history. This will also force you to be identified by your government assigned group. History has shown that this is generally a bad idea, as one of the most famous examples of group identification led to the holocaust.
I think it’s hard to argue that vaccinating and limiting your interactions with others is the logical, moral, and ethical thing to do, however, the government should not be allowed to force those restrictions on anyone.
I don’t trust giving the government that much power over my life and I don’t think you should either.
Politicians are not our friends.