In April, Ontario Premier Doug Ford denounced people who were protesting against the lockdown as “absolutely irresponsible, selfish, reckless, law-breaking yahoos.” In Alberta, lone protester Cody Haller was arrested and dragged out of the Alberta legislature grounds by sheriffs on May 11 and slapped with a $1200 ticket. The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms is representing several individuals who received tickets and huge fines after peacefully exercising their Charter freedoms to speak, move, travel, associate, assemble, and worship.
But now politicians are just fine with blatant violations of social distancing, if it occurs at anti-racism rallies.
On May 30, over 3,000 anti-racism protesters crowded into downtown Toronto, disregarding social distancing. Our Prime Minister did so as well, at a different protest. Yet Ford did not denounce these anti-racism protesters (or the Prime Minister) as “irresponsible, selfish, reckless, law-breaking yahoos.” Where is the science? Apparently, in Ford’s mind, COVID-19 is a political virus that knows the difference between a protest against racism and a protest against the violation of our Charterfreedoms.
According to “Ford science,” COVID-19 is a deadly killer for Orthodox Jews, who for months on end were denied their minyan, the quorum of ten adult men that their faith requires in order to hold a prayer meeting. But COVID-19 somehow does not threaten thousands of anti-racism protesters marching side-by-side. According to “Ford science,” COVID-19 is so dangerous that it was necessary to shut down churches, mosques, synagogues and temples for months on end, but COVID-19 poses little risk at Walmart, and at liquor and marijuana outlets.
Likewise, neither Alberta Premier Jason Kenney nor Chief Medical Officer Deena Hinshaw expressed any outrage or condemnation over the violation of social distancing at anti-racism rallies in Alberta.
Now that Messrs. Ford, Kenney, Trudeau (and many other politicians) have rejected social distancing as medically or scientifically necessary, why are so many of Canada’s religious leaders still participating actively in the suppression of freedom of conscience and religion?
Freedom of religion and conscience is the very first freedom protected by the Charter. The Charterprotects the rights of atheists, agnostics and theists alike to ponder life’s most important questions: why do we exist? What moral code should we follow when living out our lives?
The Charterplaces the onus on politicians – not the citizens who elected them – to justify “demonstrably” any measure that violates our freedom to move, travel, assemble, associate and worship. Politicians are required by the Charterto show that lockdown measures actually do more good than harm.
Most of Canada’s religious leaders have joined politicians and chief medical officers in accepting the wildly inaccurate claims of Dr. Neil Ferguson of Imperial College, who predicted in March 2020 that as many as 510,000 people in the United Kingdom would die of COVID-19, along with 2,200,000 Americans.
Inexplicably, most religious leaders continue to accept the political claims that were made in March, but which have proven to be false. By early May, we knew that 95 per cent of COVID-19 deaths occurred amongst those 60 and older, with more than two-thirds of COVID-19 deaths in people 80 and over, and next-to-zero deaths among people under 20. COVID-19 tragically targets the same demographics as the annual flu. This is what publicly available government data is telling us about COVID, from provinces, states, and countries around the world. Religious leaders who love truth owe it to themselves – and to their congregations – to acquaint themselves with facts.
The global COVID-19 death toll (431,000 as of June 13) is within the range of deaths resulting from the annual flu. The annual flu unfortunately claims between 290,000 and 640,000 lives each year, mostly those who are elderly and already very sick. In some years the numbers are far higher: the 1957–1958 “Asian flu” and the 1968–1969 “Hong Kong flu” each took one million lives around the world.
Ignoring readily available facts, the majority of Canada’s religious leaders are causing their congregations to live in a state of fear, as though COVID-19 is something like the bubonic plague: a very serious threat to everyone, regardless of age or health. In contrast to the layman, religious leaders have a higher duty: to acquaint themselves with the facts, rather than permit themselves to be led about by dubious political claims. There is no wisdom in cooperating with government violations of a fundamental Charterfreedom. Doing so is foolish if not suicidal.
Lawyer John Carpay is president of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (jccf.ca).