The anti-vaxxers are officially out of control. Last week’s anti-vaccine protests targeting hospitals in major centres like Toronto and Vancouver were bad enough, given that they targeted the very people who are protecting us from COVID-19 and interfered with cancer patients and other immune-compromised people who needed to access their local hospital.
The people mounting these increasingly unhinged protests aren’t solely concerned about vaccines or public health policies. Instead, many see themselves as crusaders for freedom and justice. As The Line’s Jen Gerson wrote, “To the unvaccinated, Trudeau represents a threat to personal liberty. What he is directly proposing — and indirectly supporting via vaccine certificates — will curtail a sizable minority of the population’s ability to travel and fully participate in civic life.”
In her piece, Gerson suggests we need to humour these protesters, and that doing so is an integral part of living in a liberal democracy. “Idiots are allowed to do idiotic things — like protest in front of hospitals ... lest anyone imagine such demonstrations were confined to partisan rallies. The line is properly drawn at violence, and the threat of the same.”
Except in Canada, it isn’t. Section 1 of our charter, and the so-called “Oakes test” that is applied to its invocation, lays out the conditions under which a constitutionally guaranteed right can be limited.
Obscenity and hate speech are both common categories of restricted speech under the charter, and the anti-vaccine protests had them in spades. Unlike Americans, our liberties aren’t carved in constitutional stone, and they are always subject to restriction or curtailment if they interfere with or limit the freedoms of other Canadians.
And speaking of Americans, we have some recent experience from watching them that suggests letting idiots do idiotic things can lead to some very negative outcomes. Said idiots, after all, invaded the U.S. Congress and nearly got their murderous hands on the elected officials inside. There are no guarantees that something just as horrific can’t happen here.
As to “hearing them out”? We’ve been doing that for over a year now. We heard them out on COVID being no different than the flu, when they were wrong. We heard them out on masking, which they opposed. They were wrong about that, too. And we heard them out about the apparent futility of restrictions and forced closures, which — you guessed it — once again proved wrong.
Those who reflexively lean against the consensus seem drawn to defending people who suggest the imposition of vaccine mandates place the Canadian government in the same category as Nazi Germany or apartheid South Africa.
But this isn’t the time to humour their irrational beliefs, or cater to their selective interpretation of our Constitution and its contents. You cannot reason with those who are defiantly unreasonable, and all the mollycoddling in the world isn’t going to bring them around on this issue.
Alberta, whose government has spent the most time catering to vaccine skeptics and has the lowest vaccination rates in the country, is proof of that. Its intensive care units, which are filled to capacity and now require nurses from other provinces to staff them, speak to the human cost associated with this strategy.
This isn’t the time to humour their irrational beliefs, or cater to their selective interpretation of our Constitution and its contents, writes columnist @maxfawcett for @NatObserver. #Elxn44 #COVID #AntiVaxxers
And here’s the thing: In addition to being wildly popular, vaccine mandates happen to work. As a recent Axios-Ipsos poll found, opposition to the vaccine in the U.S. is now at the lowest level since it started tracking the issue, just as private-sector vaccine mandates start to pile up and kick in. “The number of parents who say they are likely to get their kids vaccinated has surged over the last week,” it says. “Now two-thirds (68 per cent) report they are likely to vaccinate their kids, or they already have. Opposition to vaccinating their kids has dropped to less than a third (31 per cent) of parents.”
What we need now is a united front on this issue, one that puts partisanship and politics aside for the moment. Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole needs to drop his opposition to vaccine mandates and stand with, and behind, his fellow federal counterparts. Could he lose some votes to the PPC and former Conservative cabinet minister Maxime Bernier? Almost certainly. But sometimes, in public life, you have to be willing to make the hard decisions, not the easy ones.
As talk radio legend Charles Adler tweeted recently, “Mr. O’Toole, the politics of this are as simple as a jab. You’re campaigning for the votes of the unvaccinated.” If he wants to be prime minister, he needs to start campaigning for the votes of the vast majority of Canadians — and stop catering to a loud minority that refuses to reckon with reality.