(Image Credit: ‘Coin of Aurangzeb’ from Wikimedia Commons; the image is at this link. Used without modification under Creative Commons Licence)
By announcing a separate tax on unvaccinated Quebecers, Premier Legault effectively declared his Covid policies as State Religion – those who don’t convert to it must be penalized. They are our new ‘dhimmis’.
As several jurisdictions around the world breathe a sigh of relief that Omicron may offer a way out of the Covid crisis, talk there has moved to loosening some of the restrictions that are in place (see this report in the Fortune magazine for a sampling of countries considering this).
But in Canada, we seem to be going in the other direction. I wish I could say that this is surprising, but as I have said earlier, at some point during the past half century, our society changed from being ruggedly individualistic to trenchantly collectivist. One characteristic of collectivism is that it seeks to crush dissenting views.
It was, therefore, completely in consonance with the character of present-day Canada that demands to make the ‘anti-vaxxers’ pay for their decision would arise. So it was that on December 22, Diane Francis wrote an article in the Financial Post arguing that the unvaccinated should pay for their own healthcare. This is, of course, fraught with many issues, of the legal as well as ethical / moral variety. Then, on January 11, Quebec Premier Francois Legault announced that his government would impose a tax on those who aren’t vaccinated against Covid-19 “to offset their disproportionate cost to the healthcare system and encourage more people to get their shots”.
Not to be left behind, the Toronto Star and CTV launched their own opinion polls online on whether such a tax should be introduced in Ontario as well (see here and here for the polls – both were roundly rejected by the respondents). As we may expect in today’s culture, the idea was soon turned into a hashtag by its opponents: #VaxTax.
For his part, CTV reported Prime Minister Trudeau as saying that his government is “reviewing Quebec’s plan to penalize those without a medical exemption with a financial levy “with interest” and is awaiting more details from the province”.
The experienced eye will have noticed that he did not say that he was against such penalization.
The growing support – at least in the officialdom and the commentariat – for meting out punitive measures to those who dissent from official desires brought to mind the article ‘Our New Untouchables’ that I wrote back in August 2021. I opened that article with the following observation:
“Discrimination and banishment have deep roots in human nature. The push to make a vaxx passport mandatory ignores the fact that such a policy would create a new caste of people to be discriminated against & banished from society.”
It gives me no pleasure to note that we have reached the stage of State-sponsored discrimination within just over 5 months after I wrote the above. It is also equally true that I wasn’t the only one who saw (something like) this coming – a lot of people had this premonition.
I based my observation on my understanding of history. In that article, I drew on my intimate knowledge of the caste system that was prevalent in the Indian subcontinent (mostly but not exclusively among Hindus).
In this article, I will be formulating my argument around an aspect of another religion, viz., the imposition of a tax (‘Jiziya’) that was specifically applicable to ‘non-believers’ in Islamic regimes in history.
Before I do that, however, some explanations are in order.
Firstly, unlike Hinduism, my knowledge of Islam is not intimate. Therefore, I have drawn on the information about Jiziya from this link at Britannica.
Secondly, according to that information, Jiziya was initially applicable to ‘the people of the Book’ (viz., Jews and Christians) – although it was not applied on all of them consistently. Additionally, there were exemptions for military service as well as for the poor, the elderly, women, the mentally ill and religious functionaries (all of these being non-Muslim).
Once Islam spread beyond the place of its birth and encountered other religions (such as Zoroastrianism and Hinduism), the concept of Jiziya was applied to them also.
The Qur’an does not specify any specific amount or formula for determining the amount payable as Jiziya. Therefore, over the centuries, various Muslim rulers applied it as a tool of repression / oppression of their non-Muslim subjects or to force their conversion to Islam. It is this variety of Jiziya that informs the understanding of the concept for many people in the West (and elsewhere).
It is also this variety of Jiziya that I am using as a comparison to the #VaxTax.
The moment Premier Legault’s proposal became public, a lot of people started pointing to other situations where certain demographics pose (in Premier Legault’s terms) ‘disproportionate cost to the healthcare system’. We are all familiar with those demographics: smokers, alcoholics, those addicted to drugs, adventure-sports enthusiasts as well as people who behave in generally reckless disregard of safety.
As this debate swirled on social media, someone opined that those who consume tobacco and alcohol are already heavily taxed for the products that they consume, so there is some ground / precedent for a special tax based on certain behaviors. But I see two problems with this:
- There is a sizable volume of illegal smokes available in Canada, on which no taxes have been paid. When a patient requires medical attention for conditions caused by their tobacco use, it is impossible to determine whether that use was of tax-paid products or not. So, within the segment of tobacco users, there is a sub-set of people who haven’t paid this additional tax – and you can’t tell one from the other.
- The use of tobacco does not stem from a belief, whereas the decision to not get vaccinated does. Unfortunately, we are so accustomed to using certain words (in this case, that word is ‘choice’) that we are sometimes unable to examine issues beyond the surface level; our vocabulary becomes our prison. There is a fundamental distinction between an addiction (which CAN be overcome through determined effort) and a person’s belief as to whether they want to receive a medical intervention or not. To belabor the point, a person’s belief is not the result of a choice; beliefs exist on their own and not as a consequence of something else. When someone changes their belief over time, whether in light of new information or otherwise, it was still because they came to a conclusion that their new belief was worth having; at that point, it was still not a ‘choice’ for them to have this new belief. Given their new realization, it was the only course of action possible.
With the appropriate adjustments, we can extend the above argument to other forms of addiction and detrimental behaviors also.
My main contention in this online debate was that people who need medical treatment as a result of an accident that they caused while driving impaired – possibly injuring or even killing others – are not required to pay extra for their treatment. Criminals who get injured in a firefight with their rival gangs are similarly not required to cough up extra money in order to be treated for their injuries. The crucial part here is that at some level, their actions are choices, and the public harms of those choices are known.
Should we, therefore, conclude that in the eyes of our officialdom and their supporters (with some in the media cheerleading the way), the unvaccinated are worse than those who knowingly drive impaired or shoot up neighborhoods? Let us bear in mid this important difference: the harms alleged on the unvaccinated are hypothetical in the individual instance (i.e., we don’t know if an unvaccinated person has infected a vaccinated person with Covid), whereas in the case of impaired drivers and shot up criminals, those harms are actual and known.
In this light, the inescapable conclusion is that the singling out of the unvaccinated for an extra tax on account of their supposed burden on the healthcare system is based solely on ideology, and not on any logic. The State is essentially saying, “We don’t like people defying our policies on vaccination, so we will punish them financially.”
The irony here is that this is coming from Quebec, where their adherence to (their version of) secularism is at a level that can fairly be called borderline fundamentalism. This brings me to my old theory (and many people say this as well) that a human society cannot <not have> a religion. As long as human societies exist, there will remain mechanisms to discriminate against some of its members. Because these mechanisms are not based on any consistently applied logic, the structure can only be called an ideology. A religion is already an ideology, so it lends itself more easily to mechanisms of discrimination.
All ideologies need people who justify its inconsistent pronouncements to the public, and where necessary, enforce it on the recalcitrant. I have given a detailed account of this in my earlier article ‘Canada’s Neo-Clergy’. Further to that, I would like to add that the ‘influencers’ on social media are also in this group.
And as we may expect / suspect, that’s where the support for #VaxTax is coming from.
Contrary to the overwhelming rejection of the idea of #VaxTax by the public in (admittedly unscientific) online polls, the punditry kicked into gear right away to offer their full-throated endorsement of and justifications for the proposed tax.
To start with, Canadian Medical Association, it its reaction to #VaxTax, described it as a measure to ‘entice’ residents to get vaccinated. From my standpoint, the more apt word is ‘coercion’ (or more colloquially, ‘blackmail’). I am not sure if it falls within the purview of medical standards to opine on such discrimination in making healthcare available to different people on different criteria, and after reading the CMA’s reaction, I am still as unclear as I was earlier.
On the MSM-academia side, CBC brought on Dr. Vardit Ravitsky from the University of Montreal to discuss #VaxTax. In the interview (snippet at this link) she said that the unvaccinated should only have access to grocery stores, supermarkets and pharmacies, and that everything else becomes a luxury for them because they made a choice not to get the vaccine. She added further that:
“… we cannot allow you to circulate freely in the society and increase the burden on the healthcare system …”
She then went on to call the #VaxTax ‘forced contribution’. I am not sure if this was the result of candidness or chutzpah. In my layman’s view, a State forcing contribution from a selected demographic has to be weighed very carefully before we can accept it as justifiable.
The stunning part for me here is that according to her bio on Twitter and elsewhere, Dr. Ravitsky is not only a Bioethicist, but also President of the International Association of Bioethics.
One can say much, in many words, about her response. In brief, however, I will say that putting forth an opinion that the right to mobility of the unvaccinated ranks at similar level to that of pedophiles (or lower) makes me question how Dr. Ravitsky defines ‘ethics’. And with this dubious definition, what Canadian students are learning from her.
Over on the legal side, Global News quoted David Duff, a professor in Peter A. Allard school of law at the University of British Columbia as saying:
“They’re not taking away people’s freedom, they’re just requiring people to pay a price if they pose a risk.”
Here, I will reiterate my point about when something becomes an act of coercion. With a high enough ‘price’ (as the professor put it), a lot of people – perhaps most – can be brought to heel. This is especially the case when the full power of the State is at play in extracting that ‘price’. At what point do we say that this ‘price’ amounts to loss of freedom? And at what point does ‘coercion’ a.k.a. blackmail begin?
He then goes on to say that if healthcare were to be privately insured, the ‘risk’ would have affected the premium that the insured person would have to pay. But the main selling point of our ‘universal’ healthcare system is that the cost of insurance coverage is decoupled from risk factors – it’s the classic case of the communist mantra ‘From everyone according to capacity, and to everyone according to need’.
Once again, one is left wondering as to what kind of ‘teaching’ is being imparted to our university students.
So now we have the proverbial four walls closing in on the unvaccinated in Quebec (and so far it’s only Quebec, although this could change as time passes, although both Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney ruling out a similar #VAxTax in their provinces; see this and this link).
These walls are: political, medical, ethical and legal. They are also topped by the roof that PM Trudeau helpfully provided by his tacit approval of the #VaxTax.
The only way out for the unvaccinated is by way of digging a tunnel through the ground and emerge on the other side of this enclosed space.
One possible way for the unvaccinated (and their supporters who may be vaccinated) is to raise their voices and create sufficient pressure for the authorities to back down from the proposal.
In this regard, it is worth noting that a lot of people have reached a conclusion that the people in positions of authority (both elected and public servants) have become drunk on their power and are unlikely to relent. However, on the political side, behavior is always shaped by the desire for election / re-election. So if a sufficient amount of public opinion is hostile to the #VAxTax, the politicians – aided by their ‘advisors’ (a.k.a. the ‘backroom boys’) – will definitely find a creative way to extricate themselves from a losing proposition. This is where the results of the (unscientific) opinion polls mentioned earlier become relevant. Of course, they would be followed by professionally conducted polls – but if the online polls are even half reliable, then the possibility of Premier Legault backing off on his threat does exist.
However, a poll conducted by Maru Research found that across Canada, support for #VAxTax is over 60%. However:
- This is just one poll; politicians would want more indication for support for their idea before pushing through with it, and
- Crucially, this poll was of ‘panelists’ of the polling company, and hence it is not certain if the people polled are representative of the Canadian population at large. (This may explain why the online polls are heavily against the idea – as high as 80%+ – while this poll shows 60%+ support for it).
Whatever the outcome, one side is bound to end up humiliated. If we are lucky, that side will be the government; politicians can overcome their humiliation with relative ease, and in any event, their humiliation does not cause damage to the society. If, on the other hand, it is the unvaccinated that end up humiliated, the resentment will fester, and further wear down our much worn-out social fabric.
I believe that what is at stake is our social contract here, and this kind of unilateral rewriting of that foundational – if unwritten – document in any society can only lead to major peril. I have a historical example to support that conclusion:
In the Mughal empire, Emperor Aurangzeb re-introduced Jiziya which had been removed a century earlier by his great-grandfather, Emperor Akbar. While Aurangzeb maintained the customary exemptions on women and those unable to work etc., his rate of tax on Hindu merchants was twice that of the tax on Muslim merchants. Many historians believe that the differential treatment of ‘non-believers’ eroded support for the empire to such a high degree that it became a factor in the rapid collapse of the Empire after the death of Aurangzeb.
Luckily for us, we still have time to avert that kind of an outcome.