One day, two stories, one bottom line.
On Tuesday, we published a fantastic story about how a physician and a cleric were using facts and compassion to slowly change attitudes about COVID-19 vaccines in the Southern Heath region, which has the lowest immunization rates in the province.
Written by Free Press reporter Chris Kitching, it describes the efforts of Dr. Ganesan Abbu from Boundary Trails Health Centre, and Kyle Penner, pastor of Grace Mennonite Church in Steinbach, to win over the vaccine-hesitant, one person at a time. It’s a hopeful story that proves not everyone who resists a shot is an anti-vaxxer.
Then, we have our second story: a cross-country truck convoy that passed through Winnipeg Tuesday.
In an effort to get the federal Liberal government to abandon its vaccine mandate for cross-border truckers and travellers, long-haul drivers and their supporters are making their way from Vancouver to Ottawa.
Tamara Lich, an Alberta woman active in a separatist political party, raised $4.7 million through GoFundMe to support the convoy.
This is a much-less hopeful story about a protest movement that is full of anger but short on common sense.
Requiring truckers and all other travellers crossing the Canada-U.S. border to be fully vaccinated is a policy embraced by governments in both countries. As a result, even if Prime Minister Justin Trudeau could be persuaded to back down — and, to date, he’s said that’s not going to happen — there would still be a mandate that could not be ignored.
It doesn’t help the convoy’s reputation that it has also been struck by controversy.
First, GoFundMe announced it was holding back the money raised until it could get more details from Lich on exactly who would be receiving the money. And then on Tuesday, she acknowledged the convoy was being co-opted by some people with rather ugly and dangerous ideas.
In a video posted to Facebook, Lich expressed concern about those urging truckers to use the convoy to damage property, threaten politicians and mount an insurrection in Ottawa similar to the attack by far-right protesters on the U.S. Capitol in Washington just over a year ago. She’s asked anyone participating in the convoy to register with "road captains" and for anyone who sees or hears anything designed to "incite violence or hatred" to call police.
Notwithstanding those efforts to keep things peaceful, this protest is based on some pretty dangerous rhetoric. Lich and many of her supporters have accused the Liberals of being "tyrannical," a gross exaggeration of what’s happening here and a horrendous insult to anyone in the world who is forced to suffer under a genuine tyrant.
Tamara Lich and many of her supporters have accused the Liberals of being “tyrannical,” a gross exaggeration of what’s happening here and a horrendous insult to anyone in the world who is forced to suffer under a genuine tyrant.
The Freedom Convoy also seems blissfully ignorant that trucking-industry advocacy groups have condemned the protest and, at last count, more than 85 per cent of the drivers report being vaccinated.
So, what if we were to combine the narratives of the two stories?
What if we put our compassionate physician and cleric in the same room with the protesting truckers? Could facts and compassion convince the Freedom Convoy organizers to abandon their concerns and join the overwhelming majority of Canadians who know vaccines offer the only real way out of the pandemic?
It is highly ironic that many of the hardcore anti–vax types in this country are applauding the arrival of Paxlovid, the first oral anti–viral medication many hope will prove to be the first truly effective treatment for the virus.
It’s never a good idea to underestimate an optimistic activist, but there is little evidence that even the most informed, personal appeals are going to make much difference.
And that brings us to the issue that underlines both stories: vaccine mandates. The Freedom Convoy participants may find them to be offensive, but they are effective. Current research confirms that, in spades.
A new study released this month by economists at Simon Fraser University found that just the announcement of an impending mandate restricting public-venue entry to the fully vaccinated increased first-shot uptake by 66 per cent. The study noted the results are consistent with research in other countries on mandate efficacy.
With that data in hand, we can see now how these two stories give us a more complete picture of what we must do to contain COVID-19.
We must never, ever abandon efforts to educate and otherwise persuade the hesitant to get their shots, even if that means waging the war for vaccines on a case-by-case basis.
At the same time, however, the second story is a bracing reminder that the best practices in the first story cannot be a replacement for mandates.
It is highly ironic that many of the hardcore anti-vax types in this country are applauding the arrival of Paxlovid, the first oral anti-viral medication many hope will prove to be the first truly effective treatment for the virus. How, you may ask, can someone who attacks the safety and efficacy of vaccines also celebrate the arrival of a new drug made by one of the same companies that makes vaccines?
What if we put our compassionate physician (Dr. Ganesan Abbu) and cleric (Kyle Penner) in the same room with the protesting truckers?
Why ask why?
The two stories confirm that our path out of this crisis involves both strategies: we should continue efforts to persuade the people who are open-minded enough to be persuaded, while applying harsher measures for those who are not.
That’s not tyrannical. It’s practical.
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.