The fight against COVID-19 can be waged without trampling on civil liberties, argues the Royal Society of Canada (RSC). The independent scientific body calls on Ottawa and the provinces to continually adapt their responses to the pandemic, data supporting them, to avoid “unnecessarily” violating the rights of their citizens.
“The rights do not work as assets to the cards, as some often think, write four researchers mandated by the SRC, in a” briefing note “unveiled Friday and obtained by The duty. They need to be balanced with public health goals, such as protecting people from the suffering and death that COVID-19 can inflict. “
Faced with this virus, governments here and elsewhere have urgently decreed a package of measures to curb its spread, hoping to prevent rather than cure. They had to make “compromises between individual rights and public health goals,” a difficult balancing act.
Because the means to control the epidemic threaten rights protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, including freedom of assembly, expression and religion. Mundane activities like shopping or hanging out with friends are regulated “partly through moral persuasion, but ultimately through police powers,” the authors note, referring to hefty fines reserved for offenders.
Not to mention the “collateral damage” that the fight against COVID-19 has caused, including the postponement of medical care. The ban on visits to seniors’ homes, which is supposed to protect them, has also affected the physical and mental health of many residents.
Avoid unnecessary measures
According to the authors, “the question is whether the restriction on rights is justified based on the information currently available to the government.” Hence the interest, in their eyes, that Ottawa and the provinces “justify[nt] rationally [leurs] decisions ”, providing“ data demonstrating that restrictions on civil liberties are proportional ”to their objectives. Especially if one of them is challenged in court, they will have to justify their action. “This means they will have to keep abreast of and take into account the most recent data. “
In their note, the researchers stress the importance for leaders to re-examine “their decisions as new data and possibilities for response emerge.” To limit “unnecessary encroachment” on civil liberties and place a “disproportionate burden” on marginalized people, not all of whom can afford a mask or isolate themselves at home. There is no need, for example, to ban travel between provinces or to impose strict containment if COVID-19 can be curbed without these measures.
“At the same time, governments have the right to take public health goals seriously,” the authors continue. In the United States, rapid deconfinement to restore civil liberties has spiked cases of infection.
Canada may have been slow to act at the onset of the crisis, but its approach has so far been the right one, say the authors of the CBC. His action “appears to have brought the epidemic under control” while respecting individual rights. “But as we move forward, efforts will have to be made to find less restrictive measures,” argue the authors.