Sometimes change happens so incrementally that most of us barely notice. Canada’s steady march toward a collectivist and authoritarian mindset over the course of a decade has been that kind of change. But the events of the last year have made the culture shift undeniable. Group rights are in. Individual rights are out.
Indeed, people do have this right. It is remarkable that the notion of voluntary, informed consent—the hallmark of medical treatment in a civilized society—is now seen as an unreasonable and selfish obstacle to unquestionable goals.
Despite being fed a yearlong diet of doom, there is actually some good news on the COVID front. For one thing, the survival rate averages around 97.6 percent among those infected, and that rate goes up to 99 percent among those under 65, according to estimates published mid-March by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Ontario, out of 7,531 deaths attributed to COVID at the time of writing on April 10, only 107 were people under the age of 50. The average age of death from the virus remains right around the average lifespan.
And vaccine manufacturers successfully managed to produce COVID shots in under a year, claiming they are effective at preventing serious illness and death. AstraZeneca boasts “100 percent protection” against severe disease requiring hospitalization, as do Pfizer and Moderna. In other words, if you happen to be in a vulnerable group, such as being elderly, obese, and/or suffering from serious comorbidities, the jab should protect you.
While these vaccines are a welcome option for those who are more vulnerable to COVID, they are not without risks, known and unknown. If you are at high risk for COVID, then a novel vaccine approved on an emergency basis may make sense. But if you’re younger than about 65 and do not have a life-shortening chronic illness, you may quite reasonably prefer not to take it. Pfizer’s own updates indicate that there is not enough information yet about safety in pregnancy, for one thing, to provide informed consent. Many of the health-care workers that the National Post columnist insists be vaccinated to keep their jobs are women of childbearing years.
Given current information and known risk profiles, it is profoundly unconscionable and unethical to push every single person, including children, to be vaccinated. Is that where we are heading? It would seem so. The National Post columnist, for instance, is not content to stop at those who interact directly with patients, as she calls for evidence “that anyone who is treating or delivering food or cleaning the floor or taking phone calls in a hospital or care home is vaccinated.”
The Ontario government’s February Super Bowl ad also promoted shots in every arm: “Until we all get the vaccine, stay home, save lives.” The ad was targeted to young adults, whose personal chances of surviving COVID are nearly 100 percent. But if they make the perfectly rational decision not to be vaccinated, they could soon face restrictions on their liberty and be denied access to any semblance of a normal life, as the call for “vaccine passports” grows louder. This is coercion, pure and simple.
Like virtually all of our pandemic responses over the last year—beginning with unprecedented, widespread lockdowns—advocacy for mandatory, universal vaccinations is unmoored from past practices, plans, evidence, and rationality. It has all taken on a moral urgency, fuelled by a collective fear that instinctively steamrolls over individual rights, desires, and interests.
Under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, citizens have a right to liberty and security of the person, which affords us autonomy over choices that impact on our own physical and psychological integrity. When a requirement is overbroad and interferes with those rights in ways that bear no connection to its objective, then it is contrary to principles of fundamental justice. Mandatory vaccines for everyone are unconstitutional on that measure.
It turns out that the authoritarian and collectivist tendencies that many Canadians have exhibited this year were entirely predictable. In a 2013 study titled “Pathogens and Politics: Further Evidence That Parasite Prevalence Predicts Authoritarianism,” the authors found a relationship between the threat of infectious disease and a shift in individuals' behaviour and thinking toward authoritarianism.
This shift has been quite evident in many of our fellow citizens, as they have snitched on their neighbours and counted heads entering the local church. It can be seen in the way people have rallied around an unquestionable consensus narrative on the merits of lockdowns and shamed those who challenged that approach—even when the challengers were esteemed experts from world-class institutions like Stanford, Oxford, and Harvard.
It's there in the demands that others be confined, masked, and punished for any breach (even when it can't possibly cause harm, like bouncing a basketball alone in a park). Many police officers and bylaw officers have forgotten their community-policing roots and have become petty tyrants, turning up in force to issue a ticket to a pastor, or subdue a small business owner hawking BBQ ribs.
Undoubtedly a crisis causes a desire to act in the “common good,” and some threats do require pulling together. But as the study on predicting behaviour shows, this individual-level authoritarianism shapes political systems, rather than political systems shaping individual attitudes. In other words, our response to this virus will reshape our society and hasten those trends toward authoritarianism and the tyranny of the majority. We are quickly heading down a path to a very dark place.
Here is a better way: Once the vulnerable have been given the opportunity to be vaccinated, thereby no longer facing a meaningful risk of severe illness, then all restrictions on citizens’ lives should be lifted immediately. No mandatory vaccines. No passports.
In due course, when our limbic systems have had time to readjust to life without constant fear, a public inquiry needs to be held into why every prior pandemic plan was thrown out the window in response to panic and public pressure. Every Canadian should personally reflect on why so many were so willing to sacrifice hard-won fundamental human rights and dignity, and so unnecessarily. Living in constant fear is dangerous to individuals and society. It’s time for a reality check—before we do any further damage.