As we enter August of 2020, some Canadian cities are requiring people to wear non-medical masks in shopping malls, churches and other indoor spaces.
The scientific debate on mask-wearing is far from settled. There is speculation that masks might or could reduce the spread of COVID-19. This is a far cry from conclusive scientific research, which requires large samples over time, separate control groups of mask-wearers and those not wearing masks, and the removal of all other factors and influences to show whether wearing masks actually makes a significant difference.
Yet even if it was proven conclusively that mandatory mask-wearing results in reducing the spread, this consideration alone should not end the debate. We must also consider our Charter right to liberty, and the negative social and psychological consequences of mask-wearing for individuals who feel degraded and dehumanized by being required to cover their face, or by being prevented from seeing the faces of other people.
The bigger and more important question is why we are mandating masks in August rather than having done so in March or April. We now know that, with exceedingly few exceptions, COVID-19 does not threaten the lives of children, teenagers, or the overwhelming majority of adults under 60.
In a historical context, the number of worldwide COVID-19 deaths per million population is a fraction of the per-million deaths caused by the Asian Flu (1957-58), the Hong Kong Flu (1968-69) and the Spanish Flu (1918-20). Moreover, in many jurisdictions the current COVID-19 death statistics include people who died with the virus, but not necessarily as a result of it.
As just one example of the gap between speculation and reality, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney claimed in April that as many as 32,000 Albertans could die of COVID-19: a number larger than the total annual deaths in Alberta from all causes combined. As of August 3, the number of Alberta COVID-19 deaths was 196, not 32,000. Of these 196, five were amongst people under 60, and 139 were amongst people 80 and older. Of the 196, 190 had one or more serious illnesses, and 73 percent had three or more serious illnesses. No children or teenagers have died. The median age of death is 83. Yet Premier Kenney and Chief Medical Officer Deena Hinshaw have said that young and healthy Albertans should themselves be worried about dying of COVID-19.
Alberta's data is comparable to that collected by governments across the globe. Yet the fearmongering continues. Media report about large numbers of new "cases" but omit other relevant facts: COVID-19 deaths are declining or remain low; only a small fraction of cases result in death; hospitals (with few exceptions) are not being overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients; the virus poses virtually no threat to children, teens and adults under 60. Why are these facts omitted from media stories about "cases"?
Our politicians imposed destructive and harmful lockdowns that have wrecked our economy and inflicted untold misery on millions of Canadians, while failing to achieve their ultimate end: protecting the most vulnerable, particularly those in long-term care homes. These lockdowns were imposed for the purpose of flattening the curve, not stopping the spread. The curve is flat, and has been for months. Yet politicians now impose new measures—such as mandatory mask-wearing—in order to stop the spread: an objective which we were initially told was impossible.
In fact, many doctors state that the best way to vanquish a virus is to have it spread amongst strong and healthy people who will not be harmed by it. Once a population acquires a large degree of immunity—herd immunity—there will be much more protection for the elderly and sick who are actually threatened by the virus. It is disconcerting to see so little discussion of this point by politicians.
More problematic still is the seeming unwillingness of politicians to take a long, hard look at all of the harms caused by lockdown measures, including deaths resulting from cancelled surgeries, cancer, suicide, alcoholism, and drug overdoses. What is the full extent of the harms resulting from millions of Canadians not having had viable access to necessary medical care for months on end? Only after conducting such comprehensive analysis of both benefits and harms can one venture to conclude that lockdown measures were, or are, a good thing.
Whether it's mandatory mask-wearing or restrictions on our Charter freedoms to move, travel, assemble, associate and worship, public policy should be based on the facts we know now in August, not on the fear we felt in March.
Lawyer John Carpay is president of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms.
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