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What you need to know about COVID-19: September 24, 2020
By the most basic numbers — cases and deaths — the Atlantic provinces have been among the most successful at keeping COVID-19 away and, perhaps more impressively, at stopping it in its tracks. With 65 fatalities, Nova Scotia has the third-highest death rate from COVID-19 of any province. Only five of those deaths have occurred since May 30. It has recorded just 15 new cases in the last month.
It is reasonable to assume the unprecedented travel restrictions imposed by those provinces — allowing unrestricted movement within the “Atlantic Bubble,” while banning (or effectively banning) visitors from outside — have played a significant role. And it is not surprising those measures have been popular. In August, a Narrative Research poll found 77 per cent of people in the four provinces opposed opening the borders to landlubbers.
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association is nevertheless persisting in its quixotic efforts to burst the bubble. “Typically we think of being a citizen or a resident of a country as meaning you can move freely within that country, and you don’t have to have a reason for going to one province or another,” CCLA lawyer Cara Zwibel told the National Post’s Sharon Kirkey last week. “This departure, where we have provinces … policing their borders, is something we’re concerned about.”
Rightly so. In a country where you can’t legally transport more than two cases of wine across any provincial border, you don’t want sub-sovereign jurisdictions adopting even more sovereign pretensions. And it’s essential to have organizations that are willing to fight for people’s rights even when it’s unpopular. The CCLA was advocating against draconian lockdown measures and capricious enforcement thereof at a time when online-shaming people for leaving the house had become a national sport. Many Canadians are happy for police and any other authorities to have access to as much information as possible about our COVID-19 statuses. Civil libertarians are pushing back in certain and correct knowledge that said access will be abused. (The CCLA does seem to have backed off on its very poorly received skepticism of mandatory – mask regulations, mind you.)
But Zwibel is asking a lot of that word “typically” — both in the courts of public opinion and of Newfoundland, where the CCLA has filed a court challenge. There is nothing remotely typical about our current situation. The right to freedom of movement within Canada is unambiguous, but Charter rights are subject to infringement when governments can demonstrate reasonableness and necessity. It seems very likely the courts would be sympathetic to such a demonstration in this case.
I am ideologically inclined to loathe this bubble, but despite concerted attempts to do so, I have concluded it is entirely defensible — not just epidemiologically, legally and economically, but in a strange sort of way, as an attempt to maximize freedom (albeit for a few, at the expense of the many). The absolute travel bans (as opposed to mandating 14 days of self-isolation, as Nova Scotia did) clearly went further than necessary; there is no excusing their bloody-minded interpretation; but it’s difficult to begrudge four provinces, offered the chance to create an all-but-COVID-free bubble in which their citizens could live as normally as possible, for giving it a try. Certainly it makes a hell of a lot more sense than the federal government’s travel restrictions: Treating all of Canada as a bubble of safety, and the entire rest of the world (belatedly) as a bubble of danger.
That said, all extraordinary measures have best-before dates, after which people’s brains adjust to new realities and find nifty ways of living with them. A Nanos Research poll in August found support for the idea of a “second lockdown” in the event of a serious COVID-19 resurgence ranged from 56 per cent in Quebec to 67 per cent in the Prairies to 83 per cent in Ontario. The Atlantic Provinces took the cake, with 84 per cent support. At the same time, it seems support for the travel restrictions may be waning: a Narrative Research poll released this week found 47 per cent of Maritimers supported “opening all provincial and territorial borders within the next month, with no requirement to quarantine.”
With so few residents having been exposed to COVID-19, with no vaccine on the immediate horizon and with plenty of virus around in other parts of the country, surely it would be madness to pop the bubble now, or any time soon. In so many ways it’s a very nice problem to have. But unlike Toronto and Montreal and other COVID-walloped jurisdictions that can set targets for reopening more businesses and facilities, it’s impossible to predict when Atlantic Canada might be able to reopen without risking everything they sacrificed for. We all have our COVID crosses to bear.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020