In this land we call Canada, much has been made about citizens handing over certain freedoms in order to get ourselves out of the Covid-19 pandemic. When it comes to mask wearing, the science has already been settled. Wearing a mask is one important tool among many to help break chains of infection, and slow the spread.
Yet a strikingly large cabal of anti-vaxxers, Qanon cultists, 5G conspirators, and even white supremacists have aligned themselves under a twisted banner of “Freedom.” They claim that mask mandates (by a government or business) are a destruction of ones individual freedom.
It’s not just mask wearing either. Social distancing, lock downs, contact tracing, vaccines and any other measure that actually helps us survive the pandemic are all seen as an overbearing police state to these folks.
To counter these covidiots, comparisons are often made about seat belt laws or drunk driving laws. If you think that the government enforcing mask wearing is gross abuse of state power, then what about drunk driving laws? Don’t they infringe on your freedom to drive while intoxicated? A typical response from them is along the lines of, “Well no, you see, drunk driving laws are there to protect everyone else around you.” And then it dawns on them.
These comparisons are great for proving that it is reasonable for a government to enforce specific measures for public safety. But it does miss out on a much more valuable and broad point: the role of government in public health.
Public health is a major responsibility of all levels of government. Most of us, whether left or right wing, do believe the state has some crucial role in public health. We can debate how much, but only the most hard core right-libertarian types deny this role of government.
Examples of this are everywhere. Fluoride in our drinking water has been around since the 1950’s. Building codes exist to prevent mold and hazardous materials in our homes. Pollution regulations exist to keep toxic fumes out of our air supply. Health initiatives range from safe sex, obesity, nutrition, mental health, drug use, healthcare accessibility, and the list goes on. The state provides an entire army of scientists and professionals to improve health of the public.
Surely, mandating masks and social distancing during a once in a lifetime pandemic is not an overreach of government. Lock downs, hard as they may be for all of us, are not an overreach either. They are a last resort needed to ensure public heath once cases have outrun contact tracing efforts.
It is not only legitimate that the state play an active role in fighting a pandemic in 2020, it should be expected. One only has to look to our southern neighbors to see that Donald Trump’s failure to act and make national plan. Republican state governors followed suit in places like Florida, Texas, and Arizona and now more than 200,000 people are dead.
It is quite obvious that those who view our governments response to the pandemic as an “assault on freedom” do not understand freedom in Canada. Our freedoms are very well defined in the Canadian Charter of rights and Freedoms. Evan Solomon, on his show calls these people “dangerous, ill informed idiots.”
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is one of the most important documents in Canada. Unfortunately it seems that none of these pandemic-deniers have even read the first line:
1. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.https://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/Const/page-15.html
Any type of freedom will have limits, as different freedoms will eventually come into conflict. The conflict here is between freedom of association and expression versus the right to “life, liberty and security of the person.” It should be concluded that one does not have the freedom to put others at risk of sickness or even death. Government interventions in a pandemic aiming to manage public health should therefore not be seen as an erosion of personal freedoms. Rather, it can be reasonably justified as fulfilling its role in public health.