Opinion

Why is it that just when we most need clarity and a steady hand on the tiller, political leaders show us their cowardly streak?

Why is it that just when we most need clarity and a steady hand on the tiller, political leaders show us their cowardly streak?

Case in point: as our vaccination numbers increase steadily and pressure builds to remove social and economic restrictions, Canadians need clear direction on what liberties will be granted to the fully vaccinated, and what will remain off limits to the unvaccinated.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has failed to give Canadians clear direction on what liberties will be granted to the fully vaccinated. (Phil Noble - WPA Pool/Getty Images/TNS)

TRIBUNE MEDIA TNS

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has failed to give Canadians clear direction on what liberties will be granted to the fully vaccinated. (Phil Noble - WPA Pool/Getty Images/TNS)

Unfortunately, instead of clarity, we're getting a particularly cowardly strain of vagueness and evasiveness.

Last week, when asked about the possibility of a national vaccine passport, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that other than co-ordinating an internationally recognized immunization record for travel, he would not advise or direct the provinces on whether to implement restrictions on the liberties and movements of the unvaccinated.

"Different provinces will be doing different things, where the federal government has a role to play and where we are looking is in terms of vaccine certification for international travel," Trudeau said.

That's Ottawa's only role in what is the most pressing public policy issue to date in the pandemic?

With all the resources at his disposal, it is not inconceivable to expect Trudeau to help the provinces, municipalities, businesses and rank-and-file citizens figure out what is permissible under the law and what is not.

Instead, Trudeau is really just the senior-most coward in a long line of cowardly political leaders.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>To his credit, premier Brian Pallister established vaccination status cards for Manitobans and a short-list of liberties the fully vaccinated may enjoy.</p>

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

To his credit, premier Brian Pallister established vaccination status cards for Manitobans and a short-list of liberties the fully vaccinated may enjoy.

Things have been better in Manitoba at the provincial level, but not by much.

To his credit, Premier Brian Pallister quickly revealed both a physical and digital card to help Manitobans quickly and easily prove their vaccine status. He also established a short-list of liberties the fully vaccinated may enjoy.

Fully vaccinated (plus two weeks) Manitobans can now visit a movie theatre, large-scale sporting events, bingo halls and casinos, museums and galleries. Those with two shots can also dine indoors with other fully vaccinated people from outside their households, visit personal care homes and hospitals.

Pallister's government has been inconsistent with its policies and ‐ like Trudeau ‐ unwilling or unable to offer clear rules on how to manage the community of the unvaccinated.

However, notwithstanding these positive steps, Pallister's government has been inconsistent with its policies and — like Trudeau — unwilling or unable to offer clear rules on how to manage the community of the unvaccinated.

Can businesses require customers and workers to be fully immunized? If so, what kinds of accommodations do they legally have to offer? And what can we do for people who face barriers that might prevent them from engaging with the vaccine system and passport?

Manitoba is considering mandatory vaccination for workers in hospitals, personal care homes and correctional facilities. If that plan goes ahead, why not other workplaces like the public school system?

For the record, the law in Canada is quite clear: rights and freedoms can be mitigated if there is a pressing public health threat. And, also for the record, when the country has enough vaccine for everyone (which it does), and it is making it available to everyone free of charge (which it is), then no one who is unvaccinated by choice can legally claim discrimination if they are prevented from going somewhere or doing something.

Nobody can force you to get vaccinated. But legally, no one is forced to grant you the same liberties should you refuse the vaccine and, in the process, continue to pose a threat to public health.

Nobody can force you to get vaccinated. But legally, no one is forced to grant you the same liberties should you refuse the vaccine and, in the process, continue to pose a threat to public health.

Notwithstanding the clear legal context, far too many Canadians are buying into an array of mythical privacy concerns that seem to have enveloped the issue of vaccine status. The University of Manitoba is a good case in point.

Despite the fact that many of the largest post-secondary institutions in Canada are limiting in-person classes to fully vaccinated staff and students, the U of M will not follow suit. "Based on advice received from Manitoba Public Health, UM strongly encourages all UM community members to be vaccinated as soon as they’re eligible, but does not plan to request or require proof of vaccination," a university spokesman said.

The University of Manitoba has said though it strongly encourages all community members to be vaccinated as soon as eligible, it does not plan to request or require proof of vaccination.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

The University of Manitoba has said though it strongly encourages all community members to be vaccinated as soon as eligible, it does not plan to request or require proof of vaccination.

What advice did "Manitoba Public Health" impart to the university? The U of M could not say, exactly, but it raises a fascinating question.

How could a government that is already preventing unvaccinated Manitobans from going to movies or visiting personal care homes tell the university it could not, or should not, ask staff and students to be fully immunized to attend in-person classes?

As it turns out, the province did not tell the university it couldn't or shouldn't require proof of vaccination.

A spokeswoman for Manitoba Health said the province met with the university several times to discuss "factors such as employment law, employment agreements, health and safety obligations, privacy and human rights related obligations."

In the end, however, the only advice government could provide was that "it's up to each organization to make the decision on how they will proceed."

That is pretty much the same dodge being used by Trudeau to pass tough decisions to the province. And that's too bad because when you keep passing tough decisions down the line, nothing ever gets done.

We are fast-approaching a critical moment in the pandemic when we desperately need clear, firm and decisive guidance from political leaders. At our current pace, we are going to have difficulty reaching a level of immunization required to allow for a full re-opening unless we pull out all the stops to convince the unwilling.

And what are we getting instead?

Cowards.

dan.lett@freepress.mb.ca

Dan Lett

Dan Lett
Columnist

Born and raised in and around Toronto, Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school with a lifelong dream to be a newspaper reporter.

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