We all stand a very good chance of getting our lives back – once nearly everyone is vaccinated.
So why not make vaccination mandatory, at least for some jobs and some activities?
Yesterday, we wrote about the carrots governments are going to have to dangle to raise Canada’s impressive but still insufficiently high vaccination level.
It means doubling down, and doubling down again, on steps provinces and local health authorities are already taking: more community vaccination sites; more workplace clinics; more outreach. We also need teams going door to door, offering appointments or instant vaccination. Give people second and third and sixth chances to get a first shot.
Polling and experience suggest that, for many and probably most of the one-quarter of eligible Canadians who are still without that first shot, the main barrier is accessibility.
But along with the sweet carrot approach, what about also deploying a few sticks? What about some clear, firm rules as to things you can only do if you’re vaccinated?
Businesses, educational institutions and Canadians are begging governments to lay down the law. So far, they haven’t.
Canada today is like a country with thousands of roads and millions of cars, but where the stop sign, the yield symbol and the red light have yet to be invented.
For example, British Columbia’s recently released guidelines for the postsecondary sector is a document full of steps for reducing campus outbreaks, from masking, to hand-washing, to blocking off half the chairs in classrooms, to instructing riders on campus transit to remain seated and not move around the bus.
The word “vaccine” does not make an appearance.
B.C.’s “COVID-19 Return to Campus Primer,” released in April, encourages everyone in postsecondary education to get vaccinated, since reopening campuses rests on double-dose immunization being widespread by fall. Yet the document nevertheless says: “The COVID-19 vaccine will not be mandatory.”
In the absence of action from Ottawa and the provinces, each individual employer, store and school is having to choose to either invent its own vaccination rules, or have none. No matter their choice, they risk lawsuits, grievances and human-rights complaints, from employees and customers alike.
To avoid that, governments must lay out the rules of the road – Ottawa in its field, and provinces in theirs.
Individual businesses and schools can’t negotiate their way through this, any more than drivers, in the absence of stop signs, traffic lights and traffic laws, can avoid crashing into one another at a four-way intersection.
What should the rules be?
Some universities have said that, as of this fall, students living in residence must be fully vaccinated. Why not go further? To protect students, faculty and the wider community, provinces should mandate that, to attend in-person university and college classes, you must be vaccinated. There can be exemptions for religious reasons.
In public schools in Ontario, parents have long had a legal obligation to vaccinate their children against a number of diseases – mumps, measles, chicken pox and so on. For students 12 years of age and older, add COVID-19 to the list. Other provinces should do likewise. Again, there may be religious exemptions.
The liberal values that underpin our society include freedom of religion, conscience and speech. People are free to believe that COVID-19 is a hoax, and to argue that vaccines are a plot. You have the right to hold a protest expressing those views, every day of the week. You have the right to run for office on that platform.
But there is no constitutional right to put other people’s health at risk. As such, there are places where you should not work unless you are vaccinated.
Take long-term care, and health care generally. Of course vaccination should be a job requirement. Provinces should make it so. Don’t put each institution in the position of having to invent its own rules, each subject to lawsuits.
Want to be an airline passenger? A member of the flight crew? Get vaccinated. This isn’t a call airlines should make, and it isn’t one they want to make. Creating common rules, for the common good, is why we have governments.
Keep your Opinions sharp and informed. Get the Opinion newsletter. Sign up today.