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Police officer stops traffic as protesters march behind
A police officer stops traffic as people opposed to public health measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 march on Granville Street after the B.C. Grand Freedom Rally, in Vancouver, in Feb. 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

COVID-19 ‘freedom’ rallies actually undermine liberty – here’s why

Let’s be clear: “freedom” rallies protesting against COVID-19 restrictions don’t challenge laws. In fact, these rallies’ attempts to make provocative statements, shock and change people — which in reality is spreading lies and conspiracies — often fail.

The spaces these rally attendees go to protest are contagious, but it isn’t just the transmission of COVID-19 we should fear.

These rallies spread and transmit insidious lies and conspiracies. Festering and incubating denial and deceit, rally attendees then spew misinformation out into communities that are doing their best to follow government public health orders.

If this imagery is alarming, it should be: denial and deception can be harmful weapons with lethal consequences. Here’s why neither logic or law is on the side of “freedom” rallies.

The logic behind ‘freedom’ rallies is misguided

A recent large gathering in Saskatoon, planned to protest COVID-19 measures, included a children’s festival promising entertainment and games. In an attempt to promote the “freedom” rally, children were used as pawns to further an agenda that spews conspiracies, falsehoods and denies death and suffering caused by the pandemic.

For a group of people that believes wearing a mask, staying socially distant and getting a vaccine are losses of liberty, you would think rally attendees would harbour concern for the loss of liberties of those not attending rallies — or that this concern would be extended to the rest of their communities they go home to once the rally is over. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

Man holds sign in traffic that reads 'Give hugs again'
A person holding a sign shouts while marching with people opposed to public health measures to curb the spread of COVID-19, after the B.C. Grand Freedom Rally in Vancouver in February. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

It is quite something that children and minors under the care of adults (the latter consenting to put themselves in harm’s way by attending these rallies and potentially spreading the virus) are put into situations that are inherently dangerous. These rallies have the potential to become superspreader events, elongating and exacerbating the pandemic as a result.

In short, freedom rallies lead to the spread of the virus, which leads to further lockdowns, which lead to less freedom, and so on. Rally attendees want to blame governments for restricting their rights, but they themselves continue this unfortunate cycle.

Understanding of law and Charter Rights is misguided

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is based upon what a reasonable person would or should do under given circumstances. Historically, we see courts try to balance individual rights against the common good of the community — for example, in how we have stricter gun laws in Canada than in the United States.

Canadian courts often side with the protection of the community, like rejecting the notion that Canadians have a right to possess firearms. This comes into play as judges weigh the scientific and legal evidence alongside the need for the charter to uphold values like dignity and equality for all citizens.

Individual liberties are respected under the charter. While rally attendees believe they are promoting their charter rights, this is an individualistic understanding of the charter that doesn’t align with longstanding Canadian law and social culture.

Empathy and evidence will end the pandemic

Empathy is essential here: just because we may not witness the harm done to our communities doesn’t mean it is not happening.

As Canadians, we each have an individual responsibility to protect our health and safety, but the charter (and scientific evidence) demonstrates that collective, community responsibility to one another’s health and safety will keep our communities healthy and safe overall.

Not only do we owe ourselves the chance to get vaccinated, but we owe our neighbours, friends and other community members (whether we know them or not) to get vaccinated too. Overwhelming evidence suggests that COVID-19 preventative measures work and complicit ignorance of scientific evidence does not. Rally attendees must face this truth.

Man stands holding upside down Canada flag at 'freedom' rally in Saskatchewan
An organizer gives an opening speech during a ‘Children’s Freedom Rally Fun Day At The Park’ held last April at the Vimy Memorial at Kiwanis Park in Saskatoon. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Kayle Neis

Condemnation of ‘freedom’ rallies essential

The latest ‘freedom’ rallies held in Saskatchewan were attended by Maxime Bernier, the leader of the People’s Party of Canada. These rallies have also taken place in Winnipeg, Toronto and other cities across the country.

Politicians, police and community leaders need to condemn these “freedom” rallies and the lies rallies spread. If they don’t, rally attendees and their motivations to deny facts will continue to put people in harms way.

We must continue to question how certain groups of society have become so content in ignoring compelling evidence.

Whether a decline in empirical or media literacy, denial and deceit provides contented solace to lockdown and vaccine naysayers. We can’t allow this to continue. Just because you can have a rally doesn’t mean you should.

We can’t let the actions of the selfish few compromise the hard work and sacrifices of the selfless many. These “freedom” rallies are unreasonable and will always do more harm than any “good” proposed.

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