The freedom to be equally indecent as everyone else

Anti-mandate protests are unethical but so is the rest of Canada’s COVID response

It is easy to see the selfishness of the so-called freedom convoy protests. Here is a group of people essentially demanding to be allowed to endanger others and perpetuate the pandemic.

Make no mistake, these are protests on behalf of the virus.

However, an uncomfortable thing to do is take seriously the rationale for the protests. Being unvaccinated means that you can become infected and then transmit the virus. But that is true, in the Omicron wave, if you are vaccinated as well.

So the question is, why should unvaccinated people be prohibited from going around infecting others if vaccinated people are free to do so?

I know it seems disingenuous to put it that way because unvaccinated people account for a disproportionate share of burden on the healthcare system and are causing a disproportionate part of the problem. I do understand there are real differences here.

The point, though, is these protests are actually about freedom: the freedom to be equally indecent as everyone else.

Looking in the mirror

Think about what is happening in Ontario, where the provincial government has hastily thrown open the barn doors once again. Employers are bringing workers back to the office, restaurants and gyms are open, and everything is full speed ahead. These decisions are prolonging the Omicron wave, leading to ongoing infection, hospitalizations, and deaths, when just waiting a couple of weeks would have made reopening much safer.

The justification is that in this wave fewer people are being hospitalized and dying as a percentage of total infections. Or, as the director of the U.S. Center for Disease Control put it, it is “encouraging” that only certain types of people are dying – that is, those with so-called “comorbidities.”

But the Ontario government hastily reopened in each of the preceding waves, too. And so did governments all across Canada, with a few notable exceptions.

Those decisions were taken on behalf of the public and led to thousands of unnecessary deaths. Since the start of the pandemic, some 35,000 people have died, of whom some 20,000 were people in residential care settings, according to data tracking by Nora Loreto. For the most part, this was vulnerable older adults and people with disabilities.

Remember, as well, the majority of those deaths happened before there was any widespread availability of vaccines, so we cannot blame the unvaccinated for that. In fact, we did know the kinds of things to do in order to prevent waves of infection and death, but found it inconvenient at Christmas or when it was time to go on that late-winter get-away.

People in glass houses

Just to say, it is easy to find glaring and recurrent examples of indecency throughout the pandemic in Canada. Even now, the cavalier way that governments and organizations of all kinds have reopened is more callousness toward people with disabilities and other vulnerable people, who have been crying out for even the slightest recognition of their plight.

On the individual level, many vaccinated people act as though getting a shot in the arm cleansed them of all sin, as if they waded in the holy waters of Lourdes. And as they go back to the mall or out to brunch, they find a convenient scapegoat in the unvaccinated, who are now somehow solely responsible for all that is wrong in society.

Is that a little bit harsh? Sure. But if we want to undermine the selfish and unethical demands of anti-mandate protesters, it would probably help to be standing on firm ethical grounds.

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