Skip to main content

A protester affixes a flag to the top of their truck, parked beside a truck with a sign calling for the jailing of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, outside Parliament Hill, as a protest against COVID-19 restrictions continues into its second week in Ottawa on Feb. 7.Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

For all the mistakes our governments have made in dealing with the COVID pandemic, Canada has one of the developed world’s lowest death rates from the disease: roughly a third of the United States’, per capita; less than 40 per cent of the United Kingdom’s; half of France’s; two-thirds of Germany’s.

By the more comprehensive “excess deaths” measure (comparing overall population death rates since the pandemic began to what they were before), Canada’s relative success is even more striking. Among the developed countries, only New Zealand, Australia, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, Norway, Denmark and Ireland have done better.

What accounts for this? Could one of the world’s highest vaccination rates have anything to do with it? Might it be in some way related to one of the world’s most stringent systems of public-health restrictions? Correlation is not causation, but if the common-sense explanations don’t account for it, what does? Tiresome as these measures have become, they seem to have worked; costly as they may have been, the payoff has been astronomical – literally tens of thousands of lives saved.

And not only that. If we are now in a place to lift many of these restrictions it is precisely because they were so successful. As the Omicron wave recedes, and vaccination rates improve, more and more of them are being removed.

And of those that remain, the least restrictive by far are vaccine mandates. Get your shot, as 90 per cent of Canada’s adult population have done, and you are demonstrably more free, not less.

People like to say, I’m not against vaccines, I’m just against vaccine mandates. It sounds like a valid distinction, until you examine the premise that underlies it: that vaccines are a purely personal matter, or at any rate that they are so unusually risky or pointlessly invasive that an individual might reasonably refuse them, despite their social benefits.

None of this applies. We have had vaccine mandates of one kind or another for two centuries. More than 10 billion doses of the COVID-19 vaccines have been administered worldwide. The shots are safe, quick, effective, and performed at no charge. They not only protect the individual, but all those he might otherwise have infected. Scratch a mandate opponent, and as often as not you find an anti-vaxxer underneath.

Which brings us to the current mess in Ottawa.

It’s time to end the sedition in Ottawa by enforcing the law and following the money

Much effort has been spent exhorting the rest of us to understand the grievances of the protesters, as if the protesters all had the same agenda. They don’t. Some are upset, to be sure, by the federal vaccine mandate on cross-border truckers – to which they would have to submit regardless, the United States having imposed a similar requirement.

But many more object to any public-health measure of any kind – not just vaccine mandates, but vaccines, masks, the lot. And behind them all are the organizers and leaders of the event, including QAnon-style loons, white-replacement theorists, and former members of the Soldiers of Odin, whose declared objective is to replace the current elected government with a committee made up of themselves, the Governor-General and the Senate.

Their objectives are plainly absurd. Their tactics – taking downtown Ottawa hostage, effectively – are intolerable. Their followers – not all of them, maybe not many, but enough – have been occasionally violent, frequently menacing, almost routinely insulting. There are legitimate questions about how they were financed, and by whom.

They do not represent truckers, or the working class, or “the people,” whatever claims they might make. In their actual aims, rather than the broader discontent they have learned to exploit, they represent a small sliver of public opinion – frightened, angry and vastly uninformed.

That such an element exists in Canada is disturbing enough. Much more disturbing has been the willingness of some Conservative MPs, backed by their supporters online, to hitch their wagon to them. At best this is an instance of the fallacy of “mirroring,” that is of assuming other people’s motives are like your own.

More likely it is tactical: imputing positions to others that are politically convenient to you. Thus: “what the protesters are asking for is,” by a remarkable coincidence, what I am asking for. “Give me what I want” is made over as “give them what they want” or “at least meet with them.” In effect, you have hired them to make your argument for you. They take the hostages, but you get to issue the demands.

Even if the issue were only vaccine mandates, it would be wrong to give in to such pressure tactics; even if there were no such tactics, it would be wrong to abolish the mandates. But given the protesters’ actual demands and actual tactics, it is unthinkable that they should be given any concessions whatever.

Keep your Opinions sharp and informed. Get the Opinion newsletter. Sign up today.