BY JOHN CARPAY, The Post Millenial
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu, along with Canada’s chief public health officer Theresa Tam, have refused to disclose the government’s models that project how COVID-19 might play out. They expect Canadians to accept massive unemployment, bankruptcies and a rapid slide into poverty for some indeterminate length of time, without providing the government’s estimates as to how many Canadians may or may not die from COVID-19.
In a similar vein, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said recently that releasing projection models might prompt panic, as if Canadians were not already being panicked into accepting restrictions on their Charter freedoms of mobility, association, and peaceful assembly, and their Charter right to liberty and security of the person.
This refusal to be transparent and provide Canadians with the evidence and information in its possession comes from the same federal government that proposed, only two weeks ago, to exempt itself from Parliamentary accountability until the end of 2021. That looks suspiciously like the exploitation of a crisis to grab more power and avoid accountability.
Politicians saying “Just trust us” will not satisfy a court if a federal, provincial or municipal restriction is challenged for violating Charter rights and freedoms. Rather, the Charter places the onus on the government to demonstrate a justification for its violations of rights and freedoms. This burden on government might prove to be harder than what one might expect.
At the time of writing this column, the authorities report that over 100 Canadians have died from COVID-19. As in other countries, the numbers might not be reliable, depending on whether death records distinguish accurately between people dying of COVID-19 as the actual cause of death, versus people who died of other causes while also testing positive for COVID-19. There is a big difference between COVID-19 causing death, and COVID-19 being found in someone who died of other causes. Italy’s COVID-19 death numbers are high in part because anyone who had the virus at time of death was deemed to have died from it, even in cases where patients died of other causes.
The federal government itself does not know how many Canadians are infected with COVID-19 but are not showing symptoms, or how many have already had the virus and are now recovered. Further, testing is a lagging indicator, with results taking days (sometimes weeks) to come in.
Accurate or not, the number of deaths in Canada ostensibly linked to COVID-19 will likely grow to several hundred, and then to several thousand. All of these deaths are tragic.
Governments may well be justified in their response to this threat, but they need to examine COVID-19 deaths in the proper context, namely the 288,000 Canadians who died in 2019, and the 283,000 Canadians who died in 2018, and the 274,000 Canadians who died in 2017, according to Statistics Canada. Over 5,500 Canadians die each week, an average of more than 750 people each day. Continued on next page
Continued from previous page COVID-19 deaths are as tragic as those of cancer (80,000 Canadians killed each year), heart diseases (53,000 Canadians killed each year), and cerebrovascular diseases (13,000 Canadians killed each year), not to mention the tens of thousands of Canadians who die each year from emphysema, asthma, pneumonia, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, kidney diseases, liver diseases, suicide, and accidents. Last but not least, let’s not forget influenza, which kills 9,000 Canadians per year, along with hundreds of thousands of people around the globe.
But even in the face of tragedy, Canadians have a right to know – specifically – what models, theories and data governments are relying on, and what strategies governments intend to pursue in the proper context, which includes consideration of death rates from other causes.
Under our Constitution, Canada’s federal and provincial governments can take steps to try to control an unmanageable spread of COVID-19. But any restrictions on Charter rights and freedoms must be proportionate, rooted in the proper context, including the fact that over 5,500 Canadians die every week from causes other than COVID-19, and balanced against the profound destruction to Canada’s economy and social fabric, and all of the suffering that government measures now inflict on Canadians.
Well-intentioned measures to save lives carry their own costs, which governments must consider fully and carefully. Inflicting unemployment on millions of Canadians, as governments are now doing, means that less money will be available to run our health care systems, leading to more deaths in the long run. Rising unemployment and bankruptcies, with millions of Canadians suffering a massive loss of income, will lead to mental and physical health problems, more suicides and more domestic violence.
Social isolation means depriving Canadians of healthy social interactions, likewise resulting in more mental and physical health problems, and resultant deaths. The cancellation of scheduled surgeries (misnamed “elective” when in fact they are necessary) and other important medical care, which we are now witnessing, will lead to more deaths. Taking away resources that were needed to resolve other health problems may lead to more deaths. When people need medical help now but won’t seek it, due to self-isolation or lack of resources or both, there will be more deaths.
As recently retired professor of pathology and former National Health Service consultant pathologist John Lee puts it: “How do we measure the health consequences of taking people’s lives, jobs, leisure and purpose away from them to protect them from an anticipated threat? Which causes least harm?”
Free societies like Canada have generated much human flourishing through personal liberty and economic freedom, which in turn have increased our life expectancy far beyond what people living under dictatorships enjoy. It is possible that our federal and provincial governments may eventually prove to have been entirely justified in shutting down our economy, tearing our social fabric, and violating our Charter rights and freedoms, to stop or slow down the spread of COVID-19. But the onus is on Canadian governments to justify these Charter violations, and to be truthful and transparent with the public.
The refusal of Prime Minister Trudeau and Minister Hajdu to publicly release their models and estimates – in contrast to what the American and New Zealand governments have done – indicates a lack of recognition that the government is accountable to the people. If asked to hold the government to account, courts will require that the government provide those models and estimates. There is no excuse for Mr. Trudeau and Ms. Hajdu for not producing their projections and models to the Canadian public now.
Lawyer John Carpay is president of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF.ca).