The push to get all eligible Canadians vaccinated is going to extremes in one Canadian province. Earlier this week, Quebec Premier Francois Legault made startling remarks about the lengths his province will go to ensure compliance with vaccination efforts.
At a press conference on Tuesday, Legault said the province intends to impose fines on adults who refuse to get vaccinated. Although he did not give an idea of the amount of the fines, he said they would be “significant”. He went on to say that he didn’t consider $50 or $100 “meaningful.”
Legault also said the fine would only apply to adults who chose to remain unvaccinated. Those who can prove they are medically exempt will not be fined.
Those comments pointed to other provincial efforts to get voluntarily unvaccinated people to comply, including efforts to bar them from entering grocery stores, pharmacies and liquor stores. Unvaccinated people have already been banned from non-essential services, including restaurants and public events, since September last year.
All provinces in Canada have implemented similar measures in hopes of increasing their vaccination rates. Naturally, we have a pandemic on our hands that has gone on for far too long.
Quebec’s latest efforts, however, are horribly flawed, tone-deaf, and just plain wrong.
They can also be illegal.
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms offers certain protections regarding bodily autonomy and medical decisions. This includes the right to refuse medical treatment, even in the face of well-meaning advice. Of course, no Charter right, including this one, is absolute. Some of our rights may be limited or even violated in special circumstances, such as a pandemic. We have seen examples of this many times over the past two years.
However, it is very likely that imposing fines on those who do not comply with a particular medical treatment is going too far.
Imposing fines for non-compliance shifts enforcement from restrictive to quasi-criminal in nature. This is a deeply troubling step in the wrong direction. For the government to be able to justify it in court, it should provide clear and convincing evidence to show that there are no other reasonable alternatives.
That would, in my opinion, be a long shot.
But aside from being potentially illegal, fining the unvaccinated is also morally repugnant. And it’s particularly repulsive from a typically Canadian point of view.
Canadian identity is rooted in more than a handful of things, but one of the favorites on our short list of what makes us us is universal health care.
The Canadian belief that everyone has the right to basic health care is the cornerstone of our identity. It unites us, sets us apart from our neighbors to the south and has earned us a positive reputation in the global community. Universal health care is a source of pride for many and a matter of life and death for some.
Imposing a fine for one’s personal medical decision, including the decision not to be vaccinated, undermines universal health care and marks the beginning of a very slippery slope.
We cannot tolerate a system that punishes some for their life choices, while implicitly rewarding others. We would not tolerate a health care system that charges patients for their food or exercise choices, their use of substances such as cigarettes, alcohol, and other drugs, or even their recreational choices.
We would not agree that a person who has been injured in a skydiving accident should pay more for treatment because they should have known in advance the risks associated with skydiving, or that a person with COPD should pay more because she smoked all her life. These are absurd propositions; but they’re not much different from Legault’s proposal to fine the unvaccinated.
It just goes against morality.
Moreover, measures like this are unlikely to be effective in increasing vaccination rates. Those who remain opposed to the vaccine or those who are hesitant to get vaccinated may have a sense of mistrust in the medical system and the government. Forcing compliance in this way is more likely to confirm their authoritarian view of government. He is unlikely to quell their fears or change his mind.
As the old saying goes, you can’t win them all…but this move is likely to lose the most.