Pellerin: Don't hide behind arguments over freedom when you flout COVID rules

If you will not tolerate a thin piece of cloth on your face or virtual religious services when everyone else is on zoom for everything, don't talk to me about your rights being violated by a tyrannical public health autocracy.

Supporters gather outside GraceLife Church near Edmonton, Alta., on Sunday, April 11, 2021 to protest not being able to attend in-church services. The church was fenced off by police and Alberta Health Services in violation of COVID-19 rules.

Having spent a fair bit of my younger adult life in libertarian circles, I am dismayed by the politicians associated with that movement openly flouting public health guidelines and rules enacted to deal with COVID-19 in the name of a narrow and selfish definition of freedom.

The whole basis of libertarianism, as I understand it, is that we don’t need governments to tell us what to do That free, informed and decent citizens know perfectly well how to do the right thing, thanks very much. I think it’s fair to say the last few weeks have shown this belief system to be a dangerous illusion when improperly applied.

I still believe that with our good hearts and proper information we are more than capable of exercising our rights and responsibilities in such a way as to help create a better, freer, fairer and more prosperous world for everyone. That good people will do what is necessary to protect their fellows and themselves even if that entails sacrifices. Back in September, I wrote in these pages: “We are, fundamentally, right down to our bones, a free people. We are also, in our hearts and in our souls, empathetic creatures. Freedom alone, exercised without restraints, leads to anarchy and selfishness. Empathy by itself is powerless to do anything. Our superpower is activated when we combine those two features. When we do, we can do anything.”

Except for the, er, exceptions. Ontario Premier Doug Ford is fond of calling those who don’t respect public health restrictions “yahoos” and I will not deprive him of that small pleasure. But even he wouldn’t use that term to describe elected officials. People like Ontario MPP Randy Hillier, federal party leader and former minister of the Crown Maxime Bernier and what appears to be one-quarter of Alberta Premier Jason Kennedy’s caucus are among those who seem proud to show themselves as irresponsible refuseniks. Actually, let me amend that. Dangerous irresponsible refuseniks. And I’m trying to be polite.

It’s easy to dismiss folks who fund Ezra Levant’s Rebel out of frustration with politics, and the spectacularly ill informed army of trolls on Twitter. But when so many people in positions of power and authority encourage others to show up unmasked at a Kemptville bar or an Edmonton-area church claiming the police state [sic] is attacking Christians for enforcing public-health regulations that restrict in-person services, we have a problem. When these people turn up needing ventilators at an overcrowded ICU, whose fault will it be? And is it OK to have them use hospital resources while kids with complex medical needs, who have been religiously (ha) following every public health guideline for over a year, endure yet more delays to get their necessary treatments or surgeries because hospitals are overwhelmed with COVID patients, especially if they caught COVID because they ignored safety rules?

Whose freedom is really at risk, here? Whose rights are infringed?

I don’t want to hear lectures about freedom from people who are unwilling to make relatively small personal sacrifices for the common good. Not to minimize the real hardships that many Canadians endure because of COVID-19; they are real, and they hurt. So do the smaller sacrifices we are all making. I miss hugging my people. But if you will not tolerate a thin piece of cloth on your face or virtual religious services when everyone else is on zoom for everything, you don’t get to talk to me about your rights being violated by a tyrannical public health autocracy.

Freedom and responsibility go hand in hand. You can’t have one without the other. I’m not here to tell you what to do or believe, but if, like me, you are disgusted with people in elected office encouraging greed, selfishness and the deliberate endangerment of others in the name of “freedom,” remember their names and vow never to vote them, and their dangerous ideology, back in.

Brigitte Pellerin is an Ottawa writer.

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