(Image Credit: Account ‘manfredrichter’ on pixabay.com; the image is at this link)
As the push by media & officialdom gathers momentum to have some form of documentation in place for a person’s vaccination status, it becomes incumbent on us to ponder as to what kind of society it may lead us to become.
As we stumble along on our journey to a (hopefully) Covid-free future, with governments at all the three levels contributing their share of missteps, it is becoming increasingly probable that the next upsurge in cases, if it happens, will likely not be dealt with via lockdowns. It is possible that this cudgel of a policy-tool has run the course of its usefulness. The next shiny thing on the horizon for policy-makers and their acolytes is some form of documentation that can verify, practically at every step in people’s day-to-day lives, their vaccination status.
For all the apparent differences between the two policy options, they are similar in that they expand the power and reach of the State. As such, I view the current, changed trend of advocating for a vaccination document in lieu of lockdowns as but the next logical step in increasing authoritarianism in Canada.
Before we get in to the demerits of the proposal, it is necessary to get some misperceptions / misrepresentations out of the way.
The main thrust of many of the proponents for this documentation is that it already exists, and has existed for a long time, in our society – viz. for international travel and admission to schools. They also seek to bolster their case by pointing to other countries – notably in Europe – where such a policy is under active consideration, perhaps even on the verge of implementation. These arguments are fallacious on the following grounds:
International travel: It is the sovereign right of any country to dictate the terms and conditions on which it would allow foreigners to enter the country. When I moved from India to Kenya over 30 years ago, I had to get vaccinated for Yellow Fever and Cholera, and to produce the certificate at the airport. This was because East Africa is a Yellow Fever-prone region, and India is (or at least was) prone to outbreaks of Cholera. So, while the former vaccine protected me, the latter one was meant to protect others, i.e. those whom I would come in contact with.
A person’s right to move about in their own country and access services in a free manner is, however, on a completely different level. Putting in place a precondition in order for them to exercise this right appears, from my layman’s perspective, to be athwart this constitutionally guaranteed right.
Schools: While it is true that schools ask for record of vaccination of a child, not being vaccinated does not necessarily prevent the child from being admitted to the school. Exemptions are granted, as a matter of policy, on grounds of (a) medical reasons, and/or (b) reasons of religious belief or conscience. In my province of Ontario, these can be obtained by filling out a simple form (see this and this link, respectively). The crucial point here is that the service that is on offer in the institution (schooling) is not denied to non-vaccinated children.
Others are doing it too: While it is true that countries such as France, the UK and others have announced plans to implement, in the immediate future, what has acquired the colloquial expression of ‘vaccine passport’, what is left out of the argument is that there are sizable protests by the citizens of those countries against this proposed policy. This means that in the democratic sense, the issue of ‘vaccine passports’ is far from settled in the democratic world. Any push to have the policy implemented in the face of a widespread public opposition against it can only be deemed undemocratic and hence authoritarian.
LOOKING FOR SCIENCE
The most prominent advocate of some sort of documentation of every person’s vaccination status, from where I sit, is the Ontario Science Table. In their communiqué advocating for this document, they have emphasized that what they are asking for is different from a document relating to international travel. I take this to mean that they intend this documentation to be for use exclusively within Canada by Canadians. Curiously for a self-declared ‘science table’, though, it goes on state, in no uncertain terms, the following:
“… there is currently no direct scientific evidence of the impact of Covid-19 vaccine certificates on vaccine coverage or SARS-Cov-2 transmission.”
It is clear from the above that the Ontario Science Table is pushing for a policy that, according to its own admission, has no ‘direct scientific evidence’.
In my view, as far as the desirability of the document is concerned, this lack of evidence reduces the ‘science table’ to the level of every other Ontarian. Their views and opinion should have no greater – or lesser – weightage than those of everyone else. As the ‘science table’ itself admits in its communiqué:
“There are… important ethical, legal, accessibility, and privacy considerations with varying impacts on different populations that should be considered in the design and implementation of Covid-19 vaccine certificates.”
While according all due respect for the medical credentials of the members of the ‘science table’, it is possible to state, in all objectivity, that they are not the experts in these aforementioned areas. Unfortunately, most (if not all) of our governments have painted themselves in to a corner by constantly harping over the past 17 months that ‘they are following the science (on Covid)’. Depending on the context, this statement is incomplete – the remaining part being ‘to the exclusion of all other factors, including the harms that may be inflicted on people by obsessive adherence to a uni-focal approach’. This is despite the fact that data warning us about these harms was available as early as mid-2020 (see my previous articles ‘Being Eaten Alive’ and ‘Lost Childhoods’.
As I mentioned above, our governments will have to change the track (while moving in the same direction, i.e. increased authoritarianism), either because they may have sensed the rising tide of sentiment against lockdowns among the public, or because it is now time to ratchet up the shift to authoritarianism a notch or two. Regardless of their motivation, they will need assistance from the usual set of purveyors of opinion in this endeavor.
Enter the media.
Among the many pieces that have been written by our so-called ‘opinion makers’ in the media in support of a policy of ‘vaccine passports’ being instituted, I find the article in the Globe & Mail by Andrew Coyne to be the most worthy of attention. This is because upon reading it, I felt that it does the most in terms of twisting data and language to advance an untenable position. My first reaction after reading it was that a point-by-point refutation of his article would require one to write a small book. That is the power of spin – reality is twisted to the extent that a proper critique is too long to hold the reader / listener’s attention. In other words, spin prevails by frustrating honest arguments.
For the purposes of this article, two observations would suffice:
- Citing data of vastly increased numbers of Covid cases from countries where the rate of vaccination was among the highest (e.g. Israel), he goes on to contend that this increase is due to the (small number of) unvaccinated people. He also ignores the fact that the highest incidence of Covid now is among the vaccinated people.
- He posits that a ‘mandate’ for vaccination serves to ‘merely encourage’ people to get vaccinated. As a non-native speaker of English, I was left scratching my head at this. My understanding of the word ‘mandate’ is ‘to make something compulsory’ – a far cry from ‘merely encouraging’ that something. As someone for whom language is the stock-in-trade, this lapse on his part is astonishing.
I am sure many Canadians, upon reading this article, noticed these (and many other) fallacies in his proposition. All that such shoddily constructed arguments and ill-written pieces achieve, in the end, is to make the public even more averse to the idea being pushed. Nobody likes to be conned into something, and most people like even less the idea of realizing that someone is trying to con them.
Online, there is a bevy of doctors, riding on their qualification in the medical field, who are pushing the idea of a vaccine document without so much as acknowledging (as the ‘science table’ did) that other disciplines may possibly be involved in arriving at a policy decision. If the stakes weren’t so seriously high, their blinkered vision would be something to make fun of in a world where ‘cross-functional teams’ are the order of the day in both the private and public sector alike.
WHAT COULD GO WRONG?
The test of a policy takes place at the point of implementation.
In military parlance, this is translated as ‘All plans go up in smoke when the first shot is fired’.
Let us envisage a situation where ‘unintended consequences’ of this policy could manifest themselves.
Customer A (CA) believes that Business Establishment 1 (BE1) let in / served a customer (Customer X, or CX) without verifying their vaccination status, even though the sign at the entrance says so.
Question 1: How is this apprehension of CA resolved?
Answer 1: You need a ‘snitch-line’ for CA to call and lodge a complaint. (See my earlier article ‘Spies Like Us’ for discussion about a ‘good version’ of a snitch-line). This ‘snitch-line’ can be a phone number, a website or an app.
Question 2: Who responds to the complaint, and in what time frame?
Answer 2: You need to hire people (in sufficient numbers) as ‘Vaccine Passport Enforcement Force’ (VPEF) and give them the necessary powers to respond to the complaint.
Question 3: Is CX obliged to stick around until VPEF arrives?
Answer 3: No – unless we change our laws (and thus have even more authoritarianism).
Question 4: What is the recourse if the complaint is investigated and found to be not true?
Answer 4, possibility (a): Most probably, nobody knows.
Answer 4, possibility (b): CX lodges a counter-complaint for having been maliciously targeted by CA on account of their (insert identity here). The case could also go to the Human Rights Tribunal.
Answer 4, possibility (c): Owner / manager / staff of BE1 lodge a counter-complaint for having been maliciously targeted by CA on account of their (insert identity here). The case could also go to the Human Rights Tribunal.
Question 5: What is the recourse if CA believes that their complaint was well-founded, but was wrongly determined to be untrue by VPEF because of CA’s (insert identity here)?
Answer 5, possibility (x): Most probably, nobody knows.
Answer 5, possibility (y): The government sets up an appeals tribunal (requiring even more staffing). The case could also go to the Human Rights Tribunal.
Question 6: What is the recourse if VPEF claims that their decision was fact-based, but either CA or CX has complained against it on account of their (insert identity here)?
Answer 6, possibility (i): The case goes to the appeals tribunal and/or the Human Rights Tribunal.
(Coming soon to a headline near you: “Cases of human rights violations register a significant increase in Canada”. The sub-headline could read: “Experts warn that rising white supremacy could threaten Canadian society”.)
GOING THROUGH LOOPS
Recently, Prime Minister Trudeau revealed that the Canadian government has arranged to purchase booster shots of the vaccine from 2021 through to 2024. This brings up another aspect of this issue that, as far as I am aware, has not been discussed by the media:
Will the vaccine passport have to be periodically renewed, after each booster shot?
Pretty much all proponents of the idea of vaccine passports have been harping on the point that they would be ‘temporary’. Many people are understandably leery of a ‘temporary’ policy from the government. The most readily recalled example of a ‘temporary’ measure that never went away is the income tax, which was brought in ‘temporarily’ at the end of World War 1 in order to pay for the costs of that war. Over a century later, this ‘temporary’ measure is still alive and kicking (sometimes literally).
Personally, I believe that historical examples have their limitations. So I prefer to factor in current trends and likely future movements in order to arrive at an estimate of what may transpire in the here and now. On this score, three facts appear relevant to me:
- It seems that in the context of vaccine passports, ‘temporary’ means at least three years. That is sufficient time for them to be normalized to the extent that nobody notices when the measure isn’t removed (see my earlier article ‘Reheated Leftovers’ for a detailed exploration of this all-too-human tendency).
- All the governments in Canada (at all levels) have demonstrated themselves to be enamored of the idea of exercising more control over Canadians’ lives and their most routine, humdrum activities, and
- A sizable segment of the Canadian population is not only in accord with the idea of a more powerful and intrusive government, but actually desire such a government. Many of them view anyone expressing doubts or having questions as an enemy of the society. The push by quasi-officials and the media is only serving to accentuate the divide between the two groups.
CAUSE AND EFFECT
When I went to take my Cholera vaccine before moving to Kenya, the staff there asked me whether I wanted to have the vaccine, or just the certificate. Taking the vaccine involved the risk of the mild discomfort of fever for 2-3 days, they explained, and if I opted to get just the certificate, I could save 50% of the charge (the payment would have been under the table).
I figured that in case I was to be face-to-face with the Cholera virus (figuratively speaking), the certificate wasn’t going to protect me. So I opted to get the vaccine.
Using coercive policy to impose a vaccination mandate (in the true sense of the term, not the one that Andrew Coyne concocted) creates a real possibility of creating a market for vaccination certificate / passport of … let us say, dubious provenance. This is not a theoretical fear; there have been cases reported of people arriving in Canada with fake PCR test results. So, even if we imagine the Canadian society to be squeaky-clean (which we shouldn’t), we need to factor in the possibility of such certificates / passports being supplied by ‘foreign actors’.
How does a mandated system cope with this likely phenomenon?
In order to arrive at a possible answer, let us imagine another situation – Case Study 2. I will leave the readers to come up with their own questions and answers in this case. I hope these questions and answers will show how unnecessarily divisive and ultimately corrosive to societal cohesion these situations can be. I believe that as Canadians, it is incumbent on us to prevent such divisive / corrosive processes from taking root in our country.
CASE STUDY 2
Customer A (CA) claims that when they were at Business Establishment 1 (BE1), they saw another customer (Customer X, or CX) whose vaccine passport appeared to be fake.