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While ordinary citizens are struggling to get by in a brutal economy with enforced social distancing, quarantines and the threat of a deadly pathogen all around us, the Toronto Star has published a handy guide on how to properly snitch on your neighbour.
Writer Douglas Quan has conscripted the expertise of two “etiquette” professionals, Elizabeth Burnett, of Elizabeth Etiquette in Vancouver, and Julie Blais Comeau, CEO of Etiquette Julie in Ottawa, who have provided a blueprint for correcting the behaviour of others:
“If you call out scofflaws in person, you run the risk that they could approach you. Best to contact an authority figure and let them deal with it… Depending on the situation, that could be community police, bylaw enforcement, an apartment manager or a store manager."
Both etiquette experts agreed that approaching groups of strangers who are not practicing social distancing should be avoided entirely. Pandemic etiquette suggests, apparently, that reporting people to the authorities when they are not following recommendations from government health officials is the right thing to do.
While the Star’s experts do not advise approaching people face-to-face to stage a social distancing intervention, they do offer specific advice should you wish to do so.
“If you do choose to approach people you know, Blais Comeau recommends taking a gradual approach and giving the other side the benefit of the doubt. A glance over your patio and a ‘Hi, how are you?’ might just do the trick of stopping the offending behaviour. They realize they’ve been seen. If they persist, you could follow up by saying something like: ‘I’m concerned about you. Physical distancing is for everyone. I’m asking you to think about this.’”
While it is undeniably true that social distancing is a critical component of getting past the COVID-19 outbreak, it is also true that some authorities and many governments have been salivating at the additional surveillance tools and opportunities for mass control that this global pandemic has unleashed.
Many jurisdictions have taken to releasing violent offenders from prison in the name of COVID “safety” only to turn around and offer fines and jail time to those violating COVID etiquette. Releasing convicted criminals only to arrest people for coughing is an odd turn of events.
We are not advocating for the removal or flouting of these social-distancing guidelines. These measures are having impacts on lessening the numbers of coronavirus cases in some places, such as Washington state. But as we face having spent a month under these restrictions, and move into the second, it’s also clear that being a good neighbor involves kindness, not scolding.
Ratting out your neighbour to the authorities isn’t going to help cure the pandemic, or contain it. Instead, it’s going to make you kind of an annoyance, and in the long term, more likely to bend to the will of authoritarians in the future.
And indeed, if it is true, as many experts seem to be suggesting, that normal be will never be the same on the other side of this, it’s essential that we speak up to ensure that the new normal looks less Orwellian than the scolds would have it.