It takes an impressive amount of gall to throw a house party for more than 200 people, complete with valet parking and in full view of your neighbours, while the vast majority of Canadians are making personal sacrifices to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The party in question, which took place Saturday night in the Toronto suburb of Brampton, was a violation of a 10-person limit on gatherings. It was also a violation of common sense. Canadians are struggling in the war against COVID-19, and yet a group that Ontario Premier Doug Ford referred to as “yahoos” on Monday chose to side with the virus.
This is maddening. No one is going to feel too badly that the mayor of Brampton says the owners of the party house will be taken to court and could face a fine of up to $100,000.
But nor should anyone feel particularly smug or judgmental. These are tough times, and Canadians in their teens and early 20s have been as hard hit as any other demographic.
Their education and summer plans have been disrupted, if not outright cancelled. The jobs they rely on to support their schooling have in many cases disappeared, and they’re still not sure what their high-school and university classes will look like this fall. For those already graduated, their entry into the work force has been interrupted.
So it’s no surprise that some young people, who are statistically at low risk of dying from COVID-19, and who tend to see themselves as invincible to begin with, have been blowing off steam in defiance of emergency regulations that limit public gatherings.
In Kelowna, B.C., a handful of crowded house parties and other gatherings have been linked to outbreaks that infected more than 70 people and forced 1,000 more into self-isolation.
In Quebec, multiple outbreaks have been linked to house parties and to bars. On Monday, after a spike in cases among Quebeckers aged 15 to 34, Deputy Premier Geneviève Guilbault appealed to them to act responsibly.
She’s right, but her exhortations are also a bit rich, coming from a Quebec government that rushed to reopen the province’s bars. What did government officials expect would happen? This page has wondered before why bars are allowed to operate, while most provinces are still struggling to figure out how to reopen schools in the fall. It’s a skewed priority.
But the current spike in cases related to young people also speaks to where we are in the fight against COVID-19.
The provinces and Ottawa have successfully wrestled the number of daily new cases in Canada down to 500 or less – a manageable figure. Our hospitals are in no danger of being swamped. The credit goes to the majority of Canadians, youths included, who have respected the calls to slow transmission of the disease through physical distancing and mask-wearing.
But now that the infection rate is under control, the war against COVID-19 is moving to a new stage, one defined by a series of battles against outbreaks that will inevitably flare up across the country.
That’s why an oversized house party can have an outsized impact. If the Brampton bash directly results in a dozen new cases, those 12 people could go on to infect others, and so on. It wouldn’t take a lot to put Canada’s total number of daily new cases on a steep upswing.
But young people who understandably want to have fun are not the only challenge. This week, the worry is house parties. A few weeks ago, it was temporary foreign workers, and undocumented workers, in agriculture. As international travel ramps up, the focus will have to be on Canadians returning from overseas holidays. And when the Canada-U.S. border eventually reopens to non-essential travel, the biggest worry will be infections carried by cross-border tourists.
If Canadians want to worry about anything beyond house parties, they should focus on Ottawa’s continued passivity about testing people entering this country, either before arriving, or when they land at an airport or cross the border.
They should worry, too, about how effective the provinces’ contact tracing efforts are, and whether there are enough tracers to get the job done.
This was never meant to be a fun time. It’s perfectly fair for governments to call out irresponsible behaviour. But it goes down better when governments, while rightly asking much of citizens, can demonstrate their own diligence and good sense.