The Trudeau government’s refusal to budge on its vaccine mandates has increasingly little to do with public health

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On May 2, in a landmark judgment, India’s Supreme Court, the highest court in the land, ruled that «no one can be forced to be vaccinated» and that «bodily integrity and personal autonomy» are protected under the law as a constitutional right. Citing emerging scientific opinion «which appears to indicate that the risk of transmission of the virus from unvaccinated individuals is almost on par with that from vaccinated persons,» the judicial bench went on to argue that since infection rates are currently low, restrictions imposed on the unvaccinated, including those that curtail their freedom of movement and access to welfare and other services, are not «proportionate,» and urged organizations that imposed these restrictions to review these measures and modify them as necessary. The court was responding to a plea filed by a former member of the country’s national advisory group on immunization, seeking disclosure on vaccine clinical trials and the posting of vaccination-adverse events data. The plea argued that Indian states’ legislation mandating vaccination for government employees and as a precondition for accessing welfare and other services, including travel in public transport, was a violation of basic individual rights and, therefore, unconstitutional.

The federal government in India itself has not issued any vaccine mandates and has always maintained that it is a voluntary, individual choice. The judgment was rendered even more extraordinary by the fact the directives were limited to the «present situation alone,» and the court upheld government restrictions on the unvaccinated «if the situation so warrants,» thereby striking a delicate balance between a person’s right to choose and the government’s responsibility in protecting public health. What is fascinating is that this extraordinary Supreme Court judgment in India is in the context of a Westminster system, a system originating in the United Kingdom but also, of course, shared by Canada. While India’s Supreme Court has clearly circumscribed the extent to which the federal or state governments can impinge on individual rights in the interest of public health, it’s noteworthy that nothing comparable has occurred in Canada.

While there have been numerous challenges at both the federal and provincial levels, arbitrators have been exceptionally deferential to the mandates, agreeing, in particular, with the federal government’s rationale that vaccine mandates are justified to protect the safety of the workplace. Given this, and the fact that courts are loath to intervene, federal government vaccine mandates in Canada havThe niceties of our legal system’s culture of deference aside, Canada is increasingly an outlier amongst comparable advanced Western democracies in how our governments, especially the federal government, are handling the end game of the pandemic. On May 2, Switzerland, and Greece at the same time, lifted all remaining pandemic-related travel restrictions. Visitors, and returning residents, no longer need to show proof of vaccination, proof of recovery, or a recent negative test.

Even New Zealand, which had one of the strictest pandemic responses in the world while pursuing a «zero Covid» policy, has not required domestic travellers to provide proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test to fly domestically since April 13, and, as of May 1, international travellers no longer need to show proof of vaccination to board a flight. Most recently, for example, arbitrators ruled against the Canadian Union of Postal Workers in that union’s national grievance against Canada Post’s mandatory vaccination requirement. It’s becoming increasingly clear that, at this point, it’s not about the science. This was even recognized by the World Health Organization in an April 2021 policy brief.

While someone who is vaccinated is likely going to experience less severe symptoms than someone who is unvaccinated, and more likely to avoid serious illness or mortality, travel-related vaccine mandates were never about the seriousness of symptoms but about curbing transmission. While no one will admit it, of course, nothing could be better politically for the Liberals than, say, an anti-vaccine protest turning violent, as an increasingly demoralized, marginalized and frustrated group finds its patience wearing thin as they continue to face taunts from the government and its cheerleaders in the commentariat. Those protests were almost entirely peaceful, despite the aggressive pushback by police, especially after the Trudeau government invoked draconian emergency powers. The predetermined Trudeau government narrative, that the Freedom Convoy protesters were a despicable group of violent insurrectionists and white supremacists, was proved patently false.

Source: Rupa Subramanya | NP

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