Barry W. Bussey
I woke up Tuesday morning to the news that the Government of Canada is “suspending” the COVID-19 vaccine travel mandates.
At first glance, this is welcome news. After growing opposition from Canadians, the government has finally relented on (at least some of) its outdated travel restrictions.
However, it is still too early to celebrate. Notice the mandates are not being removed: they are being “suspended.” This is only a temporary measure, and the government has already warned that restrictions will return if “the situation takes a turn for the worse.”
These mandates should not be “suspended.” They need to be eliminated – full stop.
The tenuous medical and ethical justification for the mandates has already crumbled. At first, the government insisted that the vaccine was necessary to avoid getting COVID. That has proven to be false. Vaccinated and unvaccinated alike are susceptible to infection and transmission. And, while the vaccine may protect against severe outcomes, studies suggest that for at least some individuals, the risk of complications from the vaccine is greater than the risks posed by the disease itself. Indeed, for those with comorbidities, the virus can be deadly – but for the vast majority, the current mutation is hardly worse than the common cold. In short, there is no longer any scientific or social reason to segregate Canadians on the basis of their private medical history.
An Asymmetrical Alignment: The Government, Judiciary and Media
Yet, for many months, governments and institutions across the country have shamed and shunned anyone who – for medical or conscientious reasons – could not accept the vaccine.
Students were “unenrolled” from colleges and universities. Employees were suspended or fired. Family members were separated, unable to fly without proof of vaccination. Anyone who tried to voice a critical opinion was ridiculed – or worse. Protestors were demonized for “occupying” Ottawa (and now the City of Ottawa is wanting to turn Wellington into a pedestrian walkway – so much for the truckers causing a shutdown!)
The legal establishment did not intervene to oppose government overreach. Very few lawyers or legal academics voiced any opposition to the tyrannical measures imposed by a prime minister whose own compliance with the rules seems to depend on where he is and how many cameras are pointed at him. The courts failed to uphold basic rights. They set court hearings far off in the future, clearly signalling a lack of concern or urgency. They issued decisions that deferred to government and public health authorities without thorough scrutiny. And, since the federal travel mandates were introduced, they have been all too willing to allow the government to violate the Charter’s section 6 mobility rights. Even the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court himself made no effort to hide his biases when he denounced the trucker convoy, revealing a stunning lack of impartiality on matters that could very well end up before his bench. He then warned about the fragility of judicial independence in reference to the politicization of the US Supreme Court over the leaked draft decision that would overturn the Roe v. Wade precedent. “It makes you think that there is nothing sacred in some countries and that an institution can be weakened very quickly,” he observed. “Just like trust. It takes years and years to get people to trust institutions, and it takes a single event to destroy that trust.” Indeed.
The media also marched in step with the government. Instead of asking critical questions, the publicly-funded press magnified the government’s message while suppressing any contrary information. They parroted the emperor’s every word as he “followed the science” of manipulation and control. Once the vaccine was available, they ensured that anyone who refused to accept the efficacy of the shot was duly pummeled as an “anti-vaxxer” who deserved all the scorn that could be heaped upon them.
The Protests and Prolonged Mandates
The entire house of cards started to fall apart with the Trucker Freedom Convoy 2022. At the coldest time of the year, thousands of truckers took their rigs to Ottawa. That movement represented a groundswell of opposition from Canadians who had reached the limit of what they could tolerate. They were losing jobs. They were suffering family breakdowns. They had missed two years of special social moments: weddings, births, and funerals. They were no longer prepared to put their trust in a government that seemed more intent on punishing, dividing, and scapegoating Canadians than helping them.
At the time, I published an article examining the Prime Minister’s unwillingness to resolve the conflict in a productive and positive manner. Having dehumanized the unvaccinated (and even those who were vaccinated but still opposed the divisive mandates), Trudeau seemed incapable of seeing the “fringe minority” as fellow Canadians rather than a dangerous threat. As a result, he chose the most extreme and brutal resolution possible: invoking the Emergencies Act to clear Ottawa of all peaceful protestors.
It is possible that the Act was necessary for reasons that were not made public. But everything I witnessed in person during my visits to Ottawa, and everything that has been revealed since then through subsequent inquiries (and media retractions) leaves me to conclude that the use of the Emergencies Act was entirely unjustified. It was a display of control meant to crush all opposition.
In the same way, it is possible that the federal government had valid reasons (though not scientific ones) for prolonging travel mandates many months after the provinces had lifted their vaccine requirements. Given what we’ve heard from the “inside” and seen from the outside, however, it’s not implausible to think that the Prime Minister was simply determined to maintain his power and put down his opponents at all costs. He had to show the world that he would not be bullied by such a ragtag bunch. The unvaccinated had to pay the price for their audacity. While nations around the globe removed vaccine mandates for travel and employment, Canada remained firm.
The consequences have been chaotic. A video tweeted by a former hockey player showing his travel nightmare at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport (where he spent an entire day trying to leave for a short flight to Boston) went viral. Planeloads of tourists were stuck on the tarmac because the customs and airport staff could not keep up. Police were called in as tempers boiled over. It was mayhem at its finest.
Instead of taking responsibility, the federal transport minister chided passengers for causing the delays, suggesting they needed to get back into the groove of travelling after such a long COVID hiatus.
The Prime Minister’s Hypocrisy and the Need for Truth
That was insensitive enough, but the cherry on top was the Prime Minister’s recent trip to LA. As he wined and dined with President Biden, Speaker Pelosi, Governor Newsome, leaders of the Organization of American States, and Hollywood notables, Trudeau went maskless. The problem, of course, was not the dubious merits of wearing a mask, but the stark hypocrisy of setting one standard for Canadians and another for himself – expecting others to obey directives that he himself does not follow.
The situation became even more surreal when we were all informed that the triple-vaxxed prime minister had contracted COVID (for the second time this year) and returned to Canada sick. He then issued the following tweet:
“I’ve tested positive for COVID-19. I’ll be following public health guidelines and isolating. I feel okay, but that’s because I got my shots. So, if you haven’t, get vaccinated – and if you can, get boosted. Let’s protect our healthcare system, each other, and ourselves.”
If nothing else, the vaccine’s inability to prevent infection was on full display through his announcement. Yet, the worst of it is that the PM did not follow his own government’s guidelines. He came back into this country with COVID at time when no other Canadian would have been permitted to enter the country. Not surprisingly, social media exploded in indignation at the insanity of it all.
I wish Mr. Trudeau good health. But I also say, “It is time to stop acting; get rid of these mandates once and for all. And, please, show a wee bit of empathy to those you have demonized.”
Lifting the mandates will not immediately heal the deep wounds of mistrust and resentment that are festering across the country. But it would be a good start on the path to recovery.
Meanwhile, Canadians have seen the double standards of our leaders. It is up to us to demand better. We can no longer stomach the sophistry of a government that claims to serve Canadians while really serving its own interests. We deserve a humble, truthful, servant-mannered regime that puts the flourishing of Canadians ahead of its own ambitions. Our continued existence as a free country requires – demands – nothing less.
 Given the seasonal nature of respiratory illnesses, including COVID-19, this is hardly reassuring. It’s also worth noting that the adjusted rules allow unvaccinated travelers to board a plane or train in Canada, but rules for entering the country remain unchanged (including a 14 day quarantine for those without a COVID-19 vaccine).
 See, e.g., Bardosh, et al., “The Unintended Consequences of COVID-19 Vaccine Policy: Why Mandates,
Passports, and Segregated Lockdowns May Cause more Harm than Good” (February 1, 2022), preprint available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4022798.
 For example, Dr. Bonnie Henry announced early in 2022 that the province of BC would move towards dealing with COVID in the same way it manages “other respiratory illness – influenza, or RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) or enteroviruses that cause the common cold.” In its recommendations at the time, the province’s list of symptoms associated with COVID included “a sore throat or sniffles.”
 As Prof. Bruce Pardy observed, “The question is not whether [CJ Wagner’s] views are correct, but whether they are premature and in the wrong forum. Should any of the Emergencies Act challenges make their way to the Supreme Court, the chief justice will sit in judgment on a dispute about which he appears to have already formed an opinion.”
 See, e.g. Joël Lightbound’s criticism. Some sources suggest that Dr. Tam recommended lifting the restrictions months ago, but the government refused to listen; she herself commented in March 2022 that the mandates should be re-evaluated given limited protection afforded against the Omicron variant.
 It’s also worth questioning the assumption that mild symptoms can be attributed to the vaccine, since unvaccinated individuals have also had asymptomatic or mild cases of the current variant(s).
 In fairness, the PM may not have realized that he was sick until after his return, since he did not announce the test results until after his arrival in Canada. However, this simply reinforces the futility of attempting to restrict travel based on vaccination status when it is obvious that vaccinated and boosted travellers like the PM can still catch (and travel with) the virus.