Five months ago, governments across Canada imposed COVID lockdown measures to "flatten the curve." It was just supposed to be for a couple of weeks, to avoid overwhelming the hospitals—or so we were told.
The curve is flat, and has been for months. Hospitals were never overwhelmed, and indeed many have sat virtually empty. More testing now exposes more "cases" but the number of people dying of COVID continues to decline further and further, having peaked in April.
And yet governments across Canada continue to enforce lockdown measures which restrict our Charter freedoms to move, travel, assemble, associate and worship—not to mention our Charter rights to privacy and bodily integrity.
Having failed to protect vulnerable seniors in nursing homes, who make up four fifths of COVID deaths, politicians are now asking the entire population to live in permanent fear, by requiring face masks and social distancing to continue for the foreseeable future.
Masks have become mandatory for children to attend school, for people to fly on airplanes, and (in many cities) even to shop for essentials or attend church. People cannot enjoy being part of a choir, or even sing in their own house of worship. Many restaurants, bars and pubs will go bankrupt due to social distancing requirements which force them to operate at half capacity.
The same goes for hotels, convention centres, and thousands of other businesses which depend on tourism. Charities have been prevented from holding successful fundraising events, and are now far less able to help the most needy and vulnerable among us. The fundamental freedom of citizens to meet freely with each other, and to engage in peaceful protests, remains in question (unless it's to protest racism, in which case the supposedly "life-saving" lockdown measures don’t seem to apply).
A crippled and debt-ridden economy will surely lead to less money being available for health care, thereby causing an untold number of deaths, not to mention serious health problems.
These supposed temporary restrictions now remain place in spite of a flattened curve and awareness that COVID-19 is not the unusually deadly killer that was predicted in March.
How long will these restrictions remain before Canadians realize they have become permanent? When Halloween is cancelled this year? When governments cancel Christmas, the way they cancelled Easter this past April? Or would we finally admit that Charter violations are permanent when they are still in place in March of 2021, after 12 months?
Without a factual basis, fear still reigns supreme, based on claims made earlier in March that millions of people around the globe would die of COVID, and that large numbers of young and healthy people would suffer permanent health damage. We know now that these claims are demonstrably false. Yet mandatory mask-wearing and social distancing continue to perpetuate anxiety and fear.
Many in the media claim that COVID is "the worst pandemic since 1918." In fact, the 1957 Asian Flu and 1968 Hong Kong Flu were both more deadly. As explained by the World Health Organization, an influenza pandemic is a rare but recurrent event. The 1918 Spanish Flu killed an estimated 40–50 million people worldwide; the 1957 pandemic claimed an estimated two million lives; and the 1968 pandemic killed one million. Relevant here is the fact that world population was 2.9 billion in 1957, and 3.6 billion in 1968, compared to 7.8 billion today. COVID is most certainly not the worst pandemic since 1918.
Death is a sad reality, whether caused by COVID or by something else. The current fixation on COVID seems to ignore the fact that over 280,000 Canadians die each year. The leading killers are cancer (79,000), heart disease (51,000), stroke (13,500), accidents (12,500) and lung diseases (12,300), all of them ranking far ahead of COVID (9,000) and annual influenza (6,000).
Of course we should strive to reduce deaths across the board, which is exactly why we should be upset that lockdown measures kill people by cancelling surgeries, delaying cancer screening, and frightening people into not seeking medical care after suffering a heart attack.
A person who is seriously committed to saving lives and to protecting public health will take a long, hard look at how many people the lockdowns have killed and harmed, and will try to find actual evidence to support the assertion that lockdowns have saved more lives than they have ended.
Sadly, no government in Canada—federal, provincial or territorial—has yet announced its intention to conduct a thorough and comprehensive study of all lockdown harms and all lockdown benefits. Instead, politicians simply assume that their Charter-violating policies are continuing to save more people than they kill, all while ignoring the Canadians who are harmed by high unemployment, linked to higher rates of suicide, drug abuse, and alcoholism.
In July 2020 alone, 175 British Columbians died of drug overdoses, more than double the 74 deaths in July 2019. In contrast, 204 deaths are presently attributed to COVID-19 in BC, in contrast to 909 illicit drug toxicity deaths in 2020 as of the end of July. BC provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has admitted that the overdose crisis has been made worse by lockdowns, as the closure of international borders has led to an increasingly toxic drug supply and physical distancing measures have contributed to a higher frequency of people using alone at home.
The Charter requires politicians to carefully and thoughtfully weigh lockdown harms against lockdown benefits. Canadians are unlikely to embrace an indefinite loss of their Charter freedoms when restrictions are based on fear instead of facts.
Lawyer John Carpay is president of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms.