Canadian Freedom and Anti-maskers. Covid-deniers just don’t get it.

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.

Photo: engin akyurt

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.


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To counter these covid-deniers, 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.

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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.

Anti-mask really in Vancouver, BC

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.

Racist blood quantum laws still define First Nations in Canadian Law

Since signed into law in 1876, the Indian Act has used Blood Quantum laws to define who is legally a First Nations person in Canada. These laws were born out of racist, paternalistic ideas of controlling and colonizing First Nations People by the Canadian government. They were an attempt at defining those who have lived on this land for thousands of years in a way that suits colonial interests.

The Indian Act is a legislative tool used to subjugate and control one race of people. Blood Quantum laws are one part of this project.

Blood quantum laws define people based on a percentage of ancestry, that is, how many descendants a person has that are also first nations. If a person has enough descendants, they are considered to have ‘status’ in Canada and therefore qualify as ‘Status Indians’ who are subject to benefits and restrictions of the Indian Act.

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Historically, these laws have been complex, exclusive, and discriminatory. They do not apply to Inuit, Metis, and ‘Non-status Indians’ and there are several ways in which one could lose their status. If a woman were to marry a non-status person, she would lose her status. But if a man were to marry a non-status person, that person would gain status. Matrilineality, kinship through the female line rather than male line, was present in some indigenous societies for thousands of years. The Indian Act and Blood Quantum laws ignored and attempted to eliminate this aspect of some cultures.


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There were many other roadblocks built into these laws. Going to university and earning a degree was off limits and would result in removal of ones status. Living off reserve could also result in a loss of status. If one had status they were not allowed to vote. Live outside the country for more than five years? You guessed it, status would be lost. Passing on status to ones children could be complicated or impossible if one parent did not have status.

In 1985 bill C-31 was passed and attempted to fix these some of these discriminatory laws. The fact is that the main problem of defining ‘status’ based on blood quantum remained; This colonial way of thinking denies the right of First Nations to define themselves.

First Nations have lived on the land we call Canada for thousands of years before this land was “discovered.” Over this time they already ran into the problem of who is and isn’t a member of their nation and had developed their own systems. These systems are what should be used to determine who is First Nations, rather than blood quantum laws. Letting nations themselves decide is a necessary condition of self-determination.

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There is no one definition of what makes a person indigenous and there are many different factors to consider. This is because there is such a wide variety of cultures, customs, politics, and beliefs among nations with thousands of years of history. To simply lump this diverse group of people into one group is wildly unhelpful. Nonetheless, the best way to determine if one is indigenous is provided by United Nations:

  • Self-identification as an indigenous person at the individual level and
  • Acceptance by the community as their member

Another key point of bill C-31 was to separate legal status from band membership. This did allow bands to manage their own membership. This is a step in the right direction although, there is one glaring problem: even though bands can determine their own membership, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development provides funding to bands based on the number of “Status Indians,” not band members.

So, we can see here that one could be a member of a First Nations band, but also not have status. This is what the Canadian government needs to fix. Blood Quantum laws need to be removed.

According to a discussion paper by the Assembly of First Nations, this can have negative financial effects. Programs like community infrastructure and housing would not receive proper funding:

As a result, the following situation takes place: should a Band that doesn’t have its own-source revenues introduce a membership code where its criteria takes a less strict form than those depicted in the Indian Act, then the non-status members of such Band will saddle it with additional financial burden.

Many bands that have their own membership codes do use hereditary connection as one path to membership. At first glance it may seem odd to advocate against blood quantum laws while many bands choose to use similar approaches, but this misses the point entirely. The point here is that bands should be able to determine their own membership laws, not have a colonial state prescribe them.

Two Conservative candidates have transphobic policies. Why is no-one talking about this?

In the wake of JK Rowling’s most recent twitter debacle in which she (again) spread transphobic slander, it is clear that transphobia is still a pervasive force in our society, and yes, in Canada too. While facing backlash from many in the LGBTQ+ community and their allies, Rowling only doubled down in her misinformation and hatred. Lets be clear here, transgender and non-binary people have no obligation to defend the validity of their own lived experience. That is the job of allies to the LGBT+ community.

Even in Canada, the denial of the validity of transgender people’s lived existence remains. Two out of the four leadership candidates for the Conservative Party of Canada want to remove protections for transgender people. The platform of Leslyn Lewis specifically says in no uncertain terms that she would like to repeal Bill C-16, which added gender expression and gender identity as protected grounds to the Canadian Human Rights Act.

Removing this protection would enable the harassment of trans individuals by allowing them to be misgendered. It would also allow discrimination broadly against trans people in employment, medical services, schooling, and countless other necessary elements of society.


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Derek Sloan is much more aggressive in his transphobia. He has appeared on far right talk shows voicing his transphobic views many times along with other conspiracy theories. In a bizarre policy statement, Sloan said that he wanted to “outlaw transgender surgery for children across Canada” as he thought children as young as five were recieving gender affirming surgeries. This is simply not a thing that happens.

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Children that young do not undergo any type of surgery related to transitioning. Puberty blockers are prescribed as children undergo puberty to give them more time to grow and understand the direction they would like to take. The WPATH standard of care recommends cross-sex hormones be given at the age of majority (in Canada this is 18 or 19, depending on the province or territory), although it can happen earlier.

This is all in a context of a country which, before European settlers arrived in the land now known as Canada, Indigenous cultures had a variety of conceptions of gender that goes back as far as time itself, according to their traditions. This has been the case throughout the entire world.

By denying the validity of being transgender, it is transgender individuals being erased and marginalized

So, why is what JK Rowling said, wrong?

In short, there are two main problems: she is missing the division between sex and gender, and she is erasing transgender people’s existence, while claiming that woman’s existence is being erased.

Every major health and scientific organization has made the distinction between sex and gender, and has acknowledged that some individuals may have a sense of gender that does not align with their ‘biological sex’. Despite the use of the phrase ‘biological sex’ to mean binary sex by conservatives, there is a wide variety different genetic, hormonal, and physiological variation within the range of biological sex. And on top of that, there is a wide variety among individuals in the way they experience their ‘psychological gender.’ The Canadian Psychological Association clearly states:

The Canadian Psychological Association affirms that all adolescent and adult persons have the right to define their own gender identity regardless of chromosomal sex, genitalia, assigned birth sex, or initial gender role. Moreover, all adolescent and adult persons have the right to free expression of their self-defined gender identity.

The Canadian Psychological Association opposes stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination on the basis of chromosomal sex, genitalia, assigned birth sex, or initial gender role, or on the basis of a self-defined gender identity or the expression thereof in exercising all basic human rights. (October 2010)

By denying the validity of being transgender, it is transgender individuals being erased and marginalized, not women, as Rowling claims.

It’s not just the Canadian Psychological Association that support trans people. Similar scientific and health organizations in the USA, UK, United Nations, and the World Health Organization have all moved in the same direction. The science is very clear.

So what’s an ally to the Trans community to do?

We need to support policies that have beneficial outcomes for Trans people. A meta-analysis of 55 studies has definitively informed us that transitioning improves the overall well-being of transgender people.

We also know that puberty blockers, affirming medical professionals, and sex reassignment surgery have incredibly beneficial outcomes for trans individuals’ mental health and productivity.

Parental support and supportive organizations can reduce the likelihood of younger individuals from attempting committing suicide from 57% to 4%.

We need to affirm and support Transgender people wherever possible, and defend the protections put in place with Bill C-16. Transphobia is still a very strong force in Canada, and must be stamped out.