Pandemic divide on rights will shape politics for years to come

Lockdown protester is dragged away in Edmonton.

The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic is revealing deep ideological divides, ones that will shape our world for decades to come.

Once the virus escaped the confines of Wuhan, China and spread around the globe, the challenge was to contain it and then mitigate the effects of the spread.

That, as we all know today, was an abysmal failure. The World Health Organization was too slow in responding to the threat and its advice to nations was next to useless.

So now nations everywhere are grappling with the consequences and imposing draconian measures in order to limit the spread of the disease.

Every nation has enacted some form of lockdown of their societies. They range from complete stay at home orders for all non essential workers to milder prohibitions of large gatherings.

The justification for the lockdowns boils down to one tenet – the state has a duty to protect its citizens and can undertake such measures as it deems fit to accomplish that goal.

The thing is, of course, not everyone believes that the state’s duty supersedes the rights of the individual.

We see that divide everyday. Protesters take to the streets to demand an end to the lockdowns. People flock to parks in defiance of orders. Businesses attempt to remain open in defiance of forced closures. People attend religious services.

Then there are the state’s representatives – the bylaw officers and police – who attempt to enforce the new rules and give us the spectacle of protesters being dragged away, of worshippers being arrested and barbers losing their licenses.

So can individual liberties be so casually brushed aside?

Freedom of religion was long held to be chief among those liberties.

In fact, it could be argued that all rights we enjoy flow from that one freedom.

Yet government after government has seen fit to argue that right can be abrogated.

The justification, of course, is that the nature of this virus is such that it poses an existential threat to others.

As a consequence anything that aids in the transmission of the virus puts people lives at risk and, therefore, cannot be allowed.

Again, you see that underlying the justification is the notion that the state has a duty to protect lives.

Are there limits to what the state can do in the exercise of that duty?

There are many who answer in the negative. These are the people who support the lockdowns, who willingly rat on their neighbors and applaud how authorities are dealing with the so-called covidiots.

On the other side are those who believe that the individual is ultimately responsible for his well-being and safety. He or she is in the best position to weigh the risks of any activity and act accordingly.

The latter have been going along with the measures to date, but as the threat of the disease now appears overblown, the demand to end the lockdowns is growing and can no longer be ignored.

Whether the politicians who are ignoring those demands pay a price at the polls for their desire to retain control will depend on how well their measures have worked.

That’s the flip side to the state’s duty of care argument. Politicians forget that the failure to discharge that duty has consequences.

These draconian measures were introduced to protect those most at risk – the elderly. Every single elected official spoke about the need to keep the killer virus away from our mothers and grandmothers.

They failed. They failed miserably. Seniors died in thousands from the virus. They died because – with a few exceptions – local health officials and local authorities did nothing to prevent the spread of the virus into elderly care facilities. In fact, some jurisdictions actually helped spread the virus by sending recovering seniors back to care homes.

So the politicians and health officials who so willingly embraced state power should now be held accountable. They should be made to pay for their failures.

The abrogation of rights should not come without penalty.

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