Politicians show their COVID hypocrisy when it comes to protests

Are Canada’s public health officials even trying to be taken seriously anymore?

I’ve been complaining about the federal government’s flip flops on everything from border closures to masks to economic relief since the beginning of the pandemic, though lawmakers have managed to reach a new level of brazenness this past week.

As anger and frustration by anti-racist demonstrators’ mounts, and protests crop up across North America, social distancing seems to have gone by the wayside.  More concerningly, so too has the expectation from public health officials that people try keep their distance from one another.

We’ve all tired of hearing it by now: “Stay home, save lives.”  No ifs, ands or buts – stay put and don’t do anything apart from a weekly run to the grocery store or work if you’re in an essential business.

We’re all in this together.

Any other platitudes I’m missing?

Even with things reopening, the core message of avoiding gatherings (of more than five, in Ontario) hasn’t changed.

Yet the politicians who called people getting together irresponsible are silent on those protesting police brutality and other racial causes in the wake of George Floyd’s killing at the hands of Minneapolis, Minn. police.

In fact, Canada’s chief public health advisor, Dr. Theresa Tam, even went so far as to tell people how to protest a bit more safely.

“When we feel strongly about something, it’s natural to want to stand up, join others and be heard,” Tam said, offering advice on how best to assemble.

“To safe protest during COVID-19, let your sign do the talking, your phone do the singing and wear a mask.”

While Tam stressed the importance of physical distancing, it’s clear from the footage of protests that guidance isn’t being heeded.  This comes just a few weeks after Premier Doug Ford called people protesting lockdown “yahoos”, and less than two weeks after Toronto officials called out the “dangerous” behaviour of people picnicking in the city’s Trinity Bellwoods Park.

Church services are still effectively banned across the country, and restaurant patios can’t yet open up.

You may think protesting police brutality is more significant than church, picnics or patios, but a virus is unconcerned with the moral worth of a particular activity: exposure is exposure.

If it’s dangerous for people to hang out in the park for leisure, it’s equally dangerous for them to do it with signs, regardless of whether it’s a good cause.

The knots into which our overlords have had to twist themselves to justify this contradiction would be amusing were they not so sad.

British Columbia premier John Horgan said the ban doesn’t apply to protests because a protest is “not a scheduled event as a wedding would be, or as a drive-in theatre would be or any other areas.”  He said this, of course, about a protest with a scheduled start date, time and place.

“Free association and the ability to speak about issues that matter in the public square is a fundamental right,” he added.

Depending on the issue, clearly.

BC Health Minister Adrian Dix previously urged British Columbians to ignore and discount people protesting against lockdown orders, accusing them of being self-serving and putting others in harm’s way..

A number of jurisdictions are facing calls to declare racism a public health crisis, which would seemingly justify protests as being a vaccine rather than an incubator.

A viral video showed New York healthcare workers lining the streets cheering and clapping for protesters.  These are the same workers who have been patting themselves on the backs for months, telling us to stay home because they can’t.

The hypocrisy from the last few days has at least given an out to business owners who wish to reopen – put a protest sign in your window or blast a chant on a loudspeaker and all of a sudden emergency orders don’t apply.

Either the politicians encouraging – or at least refusing to condemn – this are cowards, or they are tacitly admitting they’ve been overstating the risk of people freely assembling.  No matter what, it puts a dent in the narrative that it’s all about the science and nothing else.

Photo Credit: CBC News

Andrew Lawton is a fellow at the True North Initiative and a Loonie Politics columnist.

More from Andrew Lawton.     @andrewlawton

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