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.

But Monday’s performance, where they threw rocks at Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and the journalists around him, took things to a whole new level of ugliness.

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.

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Thank you Max for saying what so many of us, who care about the well being of all, have been thinking since the start of this pandemic.
Well stated!

In BC we are over 85 percent vaccinated. That leaves 15 percent. Of that number about 6 percent won’t vaccinate, either because of ideology or something like oppositional-defiance, a disorder that afflicts some part of the population. Max is right about the diverse motivations of the crowd outside VGH and BC Cancer Centre. Some are Trudeau haters, some hate the government (any government that isn’t them), some are followers of organized groups (Proud Boys, PPC, churches). Where were the police in this social disruption? Where were the investigative reporters?

Oppositional-defiance my butt. These people exist in little bubbles of social media and/or church communities where that is the majority opinion and they are conformists. The misinformation that created the social media bubbles they exist in was largely paid for and spread by right wing billionaires, particularly oil barons. That includes the church groups--at this point right wing evangelical churches are in effect a form of media outlet devoted to spreading propaganda, and the evangelical leaders are very rich men whose job is to be propagandists, the CEOs of a rather specialized kind of PR firm.

There are always going to be rubes who can be convinced of anything if their emotions are appropriately played on. More relevant would be to follow the money and put some consequences on the people actively hoodwinking them into damaging the country.

I agree, where the heck are the RCMP in all this? when ambulance drivers can’t get patients to the hospital and nurses are bullied?? They are up at Fiery Creek, arresting people who are trying to save 1000 yr. old trees while a forest company makes short term profits. Unbelievable!! Meanwhile our elected people get rocks thrown at them. We Canadians are going down a very questionable road, following Trump!! As an old citizen with a small pox scar I have spent my life following the rules, seat belts, drivers licenses, car seats, vaccines for diseases that are mostly unheard of here, polio, measles, diphtheria etc etc, how is this vaccine against a worldwide pandemic against my rights?? I just don’t get it. Luckily I can vote for Elizabeth May, one of the only politicians who gets it!!! Cheerio from salt Spring Island

An excellent commentary on enforcement priorities.

I was greatly angered by a TV interview of a paramedic who was carrying a patient with a life-threatening health crisis in an ambulance to Vancouver General Hospital, and who became stuck in this crowd and hassled by these dimwitted hillbillies seduced by conspiracy fantasy "freedom fighters" with too many anger issues.

Quickly change the scene to the police zealotry and abuse exposed during the Fairy Creek arrests of grandmothers and peaceful youth, and study the contrast.

The exception was that the Vancouver Police Dept. is not the RCMP. The VPD are experienced with handling protests, but this protest, unlike the vast majority which let the cops know their schedule and route, was unannounced and didn't offer much time to prepare.

Still, they should have quickly called in for more reinforcements.

??? reportage here said it was advertised on social media???
Also that at least here in Ontario, it's the same individuals showing up in diverse locations. Serial performances, on the election tour, if you will.

Well written Max. Thank you.

Whether one likes JT he holds our most important Office. I think it is shameful & embarrassing anyone regardless of cause for protest are permitted to be aggressive anywhere near any Prime Minister or elected government official, never mind assault them with weapons. Then I think of all the times I've seen police be heavy-handed for lesser things, like erecting a ceremonial teepee on a legislature lawn or locked out union workers slowing down traffic a bit and I'm shocked & disgusted. Then persons wonder why persons are upset about systemic discrimination & call for defunding police. I served with Canadian Forces. PM is our commander-in-chief. We weren't allowed to campaign for any party since we were expected to remain neutral so we could effectively and without hesitation carry out the orders of PM's office & gov. If the police cannot protect our PM then let the military do it.

I think that's a great idea Randy. The police are also politically neutral, but since they're charged with protecting people's democratic right to protest (an activity that has escalated wildly since Trump and the right wing opened the doors wide to full-on bad boy behavior in a truly alarming and unprecedented way, splintering off into ever more extreme groups and even new political parties) the police are a bit hamstrung unless actual laws are broken.
But with the military having a different role as the bona fide arm of the government, them showing up to protect the head of that government would be a reminder of the inherent gravitas of the office in the context of a democracy. Trudeau is no Trump, to say the least. The stoking of hatred for him online is pathological, and currently manifesting shockingly on the campaign trail.
Much more should be said in this campaign about just HOW much the cons use social media, favored platform of the far too many "low information voters" out there. Google "Topham Guerin" and "Jeff Ballingall," both hired by O'Toole.

A very good piece, Max Fawcett. Kudos.

In the substack commentary mentioned by Max Fawcett, Jen Gerson displays the special form of "both sides" stupidity shown by intelligent people who are frightened of provoking the right but who think it's safe, harmless fun to attack the centre and left. This has badly damaged the media in the U.S. and is on its way to doing the same here.

Gerson: "The Liberals are trying to spin two concurrent but incompatible narratives; that of their Dear Leader's inexhaustible empathy, and that of his relentless toughness toward the reviled 20 per cent of the electorate that won't get the jab."

Well, Ms. Gerson, maybe Trudeau's empathy is directed towards people who may become seriously ill, or incapacitated, or die because of the partisanized reckless idiocy from a minority of the population that has been endlessly coddled by the political right and by much of the media.

Totally what I think, and what drives me most crazy. "Bothsidesism" is both rampant and scary actually. The left wing has been duped (and I thought we were the smart ones) and has so dropped the ball here in their mania to virtue- signal constantly that it's embarrassing. I agree with Bill Maher's assessment that what we need is a "bastard for progressivism."
I think Trudeau called the election to try and shine a light on what he has been witnessing firsthand for years, which is just HOW totally nuts the right wing has become, and therefore how fundamentally unsuited to govern a modern, dynamic society like ours generally, but how particularly dangerous it would be NOW, with not only a pandemic but also terrifying climate change. Cons are anti-science and anti-intellectual, not to mention religious. Jon Stewart rightly called their mentor, the GOP, the party of NO, coincidentally also the party of "God."
Jen Gerson is just another smartass, evil con and the media is largely conservative-owned, which is why the discerning among us are turning to online publications such as this one.

I also agree that fear explains the oddly mollifying tone of bothsidesism. We also see this with "Islamophobia," where a religious doctrine that has spawned the utter horror that is ISIS and currently, again, the Taliban, (both of which can rightly be seen as simply purists of that doctrine), and yet no one in the media EVER raises the indisputable connection, rendering the "god idea" that is religion and idea beyond criticism, unlike ANY other idea. This is of course because eager, welcoming Canadians would rather display their trademark (and in this case mindless) tolerance of any and all religious delusions, even the worst in a bad field when it comes to "tolerance." And all this in the unprecedented, post-truth context of the "big lie" strangling democracy in the States. It's like when we were kids and were instructed not to say anything to those who continued to "believe" in Santa Claus when we had dropped the fantasy, that we should let them come to it in their own time. With indoctrinated people, we should be addressing the heart of the problem, which is the doctrine itself.

It is a shocking "reporting" (or rather a lack of) feeding hate of "they" versus "us". There is no mention of the more than valid questions about the genetic experiment called the covid vaccine which is presented as the only "treatment" which it is not. This kind of uneducated hate mongering does a great dis-service to the National Observer which subscription I am just about to cancel.

Okay. Now, what research and evidence backs those purported questions? Is there any legitimate science behind them? Let's see the published data and methodology.

There is reams of scientific evidence that backs not just the efficacy of vaccines which prevents the spread of deadly disease, but that the anomalies and side effects are miniscule. There are lots of links to reputable scientific publications that invite examination of the evidence and rigorous re-testing of published results by independent science bodies. There is also lots of reporting on the science, just not on conspiracy websites and hoodwinking Twitter accounts.

First off, this is clearly identified as an OPINION piece. That is not the same as reporting, so please learn to tell the difference.

Second, regarding "the genetic experiment called the covid vaccine"; what is your basis for labelling it (inaccurately) as such? None of the vaccines actually alter human genes at all.

Third, exactly what other "treatment" would you personally recommend, that has been as exhaustively researched and tested and proven effective around the world as the numerous vaccines now available?

So sorry that you cannot tolerate reading opinions that disagree with your prejudices. Guess you'd better go back to your Facebook silo then, or wherever it is you get your misinformation. Bye, bye!

Don't let the door hit you on the way out Josette....

Thank you for this opinion piece and I agree. What disturbs me is that many of these anti-vaxxer protesters seem to be drawn to the PPC party. And the PPC party is gaining traction with some Canadians, more than we might suspect. Its very Trump-esq.
I agree that much of this hate and misinformed freedom talk is being fuelled on social media. How can social media be more effectively regulated?

I am saddened by the Trudeau bashing- and now a physical attack. What happened to respect and common decency? Even though I won't be voting Liberal and I don't agree with all their policies by any means, I think our PM deserves respect. We need to remember that this federal government steered us through the pandemic remarkably well.

The most important principle to me is the control over my over my own body. I should not be asked to have my body touched in order to save others.

You should not have to be asked. I've been there, done that, no big deal. Your choice ... just don't ask to sit in my restaurant.

What I wonder is, how many of the people saying this kind of thing are also anti-abortion?

Yeah, I thought of that glaring contradiction too, but the womb uniquely seems to be regarded as public property by many.

"Having your body touched" sounds sexual though, and I get, but a vaccination is decidedly not. If you do contract covid and end up hospitalized (which is more likely to happen if you refuse vaccination), you will have to be touched, and possibly quite invasively to save your life.
Think instead of being touched by science as it puts a protective cloak around you....

This is a discussion I've had, in one form, with two relatives, and in another form, with a group of friends.

Here it is:

I have two dear in-laws, who will NOT get the vaccine. We’ve talked about this for months: they send me stuff from YouTube and odd (to me) “independent” media, I send them science and research. They’re really not nuts. But they don’t trust Big Pharma, or big government.

The reason I tell you about this is that I don’t think they’re alone. There are the crazies, the marchers and rock-throwers and whatever, but I suspect there is a population like my relatives, of unknown size, who think the way they do. That’s it’s over-blown, that mainstream media is not to be trusted because it’s all owned by corporations, as are governments, and that corporations are only interested in profit. Hard to argue with that one, many days.

When peer-reviewed science is later revealed to have been fraudulent, when science is funded more and more by private enterprise rather than governments, when we have Big Pharma like the Sackler family walking away unscathed after essentially murdering thousands of Americans, and Canadians, and the prosecution caving to their demand that they never ever face criminal charges……it’s a bit challenging to argue to them that they should trust these structures.

It feels to me like there is a level of this that is deeper than it appears, at first glance. I pretty much thought Rodham lost the election when she labelled a group of people “deplorables”; I think taking the same approach to anti-vaxxers and COVID minimalizers is equally polarizing, so equally unhelpful.

It feels, some days, like pretty much a crap shoot. They’ve chosen one way, I’ve chosen another.

In the interests of family relations, we’ve both stopped trying to convince each other.

I’ve been following denialism for a long time now, starting with the gun issue in the States. There was a study several years ago that brought together gun advocates, and gun opponents, for several days, had them talk about their personal experiences, values, attitudes, beliefs. It was a very civil discussion, often one on one. Gun advocate with a woman who’d lost a child to gun violence—and he was open to her, and caring. But at the end of the experience, almost everyone said they understood the opposing viewpoint better. And almost no-one had changed their own stand.

So I began digging into how to change minds—on polarizing topics like arms, and others, and now COVID and vaccines. The latest research I’ve been able to find is discouraging: once people adopt a position, a value, the only possible way to change it appears to be through the influence of someone in their existing circle. If someone a person has had a long relationship tells them this bumpf, someone they are close to, and trusted--what will convince them that the trusted friend is wrong?

So, for those of you who are out of patience, offended by anti-vaxxers (pro-gun, anti equal rights proponents, sexists, misogynists, homophobes, etc.) well and good. So am I. Most especially with the ranters in the groups. I can’t be out of patience with people I love--I don't want to lose them to this vile disease.

So a question: given that apparently our society is not willing to arrest and imprison these people who endangering others (which I’d mostly be fine with, by the way), how do we, how does anyone, change their minds? More immediately, how does anyone change their behaviour, which is much more immediate?

I have editorial cartoons from a hundred years ago pointing out that these people were there then, as they are now. So, if we would by any possible means actually want to interrupt or end this cycle of ignorance and risk, how precisely would you suggest that we do that?

The eye-opener for me was several years ago, re gun control “why can’t they just SEE?”. Some group, research group I think, got sane and articulate gun opponents and gun proponents into the same space for, I think, a weekend. Members of each group, in duos, explained their reasoning to the other member of the duo. Each tried, to persuade, without heat, the other member of the validity of their particular position.

At the end of the time, everyone loved their opposite number, respected them, understood where they were coming from—and almost no-one had changed their mind. That stunned me—and it shouldn’t have, after all the years in addiction with a really good boss who told us from day one that knowledge alone almost never changes behaviour.

So I'd be glad to hear any ideas--most especially any that have any kind of evidence.