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How not to do pandemic response


While in America authoritarian-minded leaders have generally erred in the opposite direction, Doug Ford has shown what could happen if a reactionary got to use COVID as a pretext for crackdowns:

Ford opened by blaming the federal government for not providing the province with sufficient vaccine supply, abdicating his responsibility for a pandemic that was never going to be solved immediately by vaccines. He moved on to the absurd claim that Ontario has the toughest measures in North America, which is untrue. He said he was restricting outdoor gatherings (which tend to be far safer than indoor gatherings) while permitting factories, food-processing plants and warehouses to operate, intimating that a seesaw is a greater threat than a fulfillment center — or, at least, that outdoor recreation and the physical and mental health that comes with it are less important than moving goods. On Saturday, he reversed a decision to close playgrounds but kept other outdoor restrictions in place.

Gaunt and drawn on Friday, he announced that his government was empowering police to arbitrarily stop anyone who is outside their residence during the province’s lockdown, giving law enforcement extraordinary powers that threaten civil rights, especially among vulnerable and racialized populations. Within hours of the news conference, several police departments indicated they would not being conducting “random” checks, including Ottawa, Waterloo and Peterborough. Others soon followed, including Toronto and Hamilton. That may seem welcome news, but it is not nearly good enough. These statements are not guarantees that individuals won’t be harassed, intimidated, fined or arrested. On Saturday, Ford updated this measure, too; the regulation, however, remains a civil liberties threat.

Banning relatively safe outdoor activities is not merely bad in itself but counterproductive; it will lead to more much less safe indoor gatherings that are practically impossible for law enforcement to stop. And giving the police the license to harass people makes it much worse. Understanding that outdoor transmission is very rare is critical to anti-COVID measures that are effective and sustainable, and yet more than a year in there are important people who don’t understand this at all.

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