Last month, British Columbia announced that those who don’t wear masks indoors can now be fined $230. ‘To me, it’s about a sign of respect for our fellow people who are suffering through this with us,’ Provincial Health Officer Dr Bonnie Henry said. Police have also been fining those who dare host gatherings in their condos $2,300. One recent bust was for ‘party guests not wearing masks and sitting too close to each other’.
Call the cops! Your neighbors are having fun!
Sounds Karen-y right? The kind of thing some rich, white, NIMBY, authoritarian, cop-lover would pull. Surely the left must be up in arms — not only are people’s civil liberties being impinged upon, but weren’t we supposed to defund the police?
What’s weird about the seemingly endless, ever-increasing COVID restrictions, mandates and fines is that it is progressives — the Trump-hating, anti-fascist, anti-militarized police state people — who are demanding and celebrating these measures, yelling ‘Stay the fuck home!’ across their social media feeds. In British Columbia and Alberta, the provincial NDP demanded a mask mandate plus fines for non-compliance and local left-wing activists responded with a ‘Finally! What took you so long!’ Similar lines were drawn in the US, as Democrats were more supportive of mask mandates and lockdowns than Republicans.
Many will scoff at critics, saying, ‘it’s just a mask! Clearly you have never suffered true oppression, if this is the worst you have encountered!’ Or, ‘don’t be so selfish! Your social gatherings are not worth the risk to the vulnerable.’ But the truth is: it’s not just about a piece of fabric — and it is not those concerned about the broader impact of restrictions and lockdowns who are the selfish ones.
In Manitoba, a church minister was handed two fines totaling almost $2,600 for attending a protest against COVID-19 restrictions and being at a religious service.
Yes, you heard that right: he was fined for protesting.
So maybe the left doesn’t care that people’s apartment parties may be shut down, or that we are paying police officers to patrol public transit, restaurants and retail outlets for the maskless, but surely they care about our right to protest? This is, after all, a pivotal right, protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the European Convention of Human Rights and the First Amendment, guaranteeing freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly. The end of the political spectrum once responsible for fighting for civil rights, women’s rights and the right to strike should be up in arms. Protest was what allowed us to win rights for the oppressed, yet this has disappeared in a blip, as Canadian provinces continue their record-breaking state of emergency.
A state of emergency allows governments to exercise extraordinary powers that would normally be considered infringements on liberty. And as this ‘crisis’ carries on, with no end in sight, you wonder whether our rights will be returned to us.
You might respond by saying, ‘But this is an emergency! We are in a pandemic. We are saving lives.’ But it is precisely this kind of heightened level of fear and anxiety that is endangering us in other ways. It is in times of fear, when we experience a loss of control and isolation, that totalitarianism creeps in. In her book, The Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt writes that totalitarianism ‘demand[s] total, unrestricted, unconditional and unalterable loyalty of the individual member… Such loyalty can be expected only from the completely isolated human being who, without any other social ties to family, friends, comrades, or even mere acquaintances, derives his sense of having a place in the world only from his belonging to a movement.’
As our day-to-day lives and futures feel uncertain, people grasp for control, imagining that more rules will save us. But, in fact, it is in times like these when we need to be evermore vigilant, ensuring we keep our wits about us and avoid succumbing to fear and isolation and pitting citizens against one another.
People are losing their businesses, their livelihoods, their freedoms and their lives. And for some reason, progressives are ignoring all of this and demanding that people sit down, shut up and watch quietly and compliantly, as totalitarianism creeps in.
Do I sound hyperbolic? Perhaps. But only because I am appalled.
At what point did those who once defended civil liberties become the people advocating against them? How can it be that those I spent my life supporting, voting for and allying with — believing I was on the side of the political spectrum that cared for the downtrodden — have completely lost sight of their proclaimed goal?
The pandemic has punished the have-nots more than anyone. As Amazon and Walmart thrive, social media corporations grow more and more powerful, while white-collar workers are comfortable working from home, small businesses fail, the working class lose hours and jobs and people grow ever more hopeless and isolated — unable to organize, protest, access services and build community — yet the left demands more lockdowns, more mandates, more police involvement.
Many warned, as the lockdowns began, that the consequences would be more harmful than the gains. Some warned these restrictions may not be temporary, as promised. Early on, I supported the restrictions wholeheartedly, believing we were looking at maybe a few weeks, simply to ensure hospitals weren’t overwhelmed, then would figure out a more sustainable plan. I was wrong. Things have only gotten worse.
We may not move around freely, we have consented to all of our data being collected and tracked online, we cannot gather with loved ones or experience joy. We may not rebel. We cannot speak to one another or share information outside a platform controlled by politically biased corporations, who are neither transparent nor accountable. We have turned on one another: blaming individuals for failing to follow rules, when in truth, the virus is simply not as containable as we would like to imagine. While the claim is all this is being done to save lives, we are not living. What is life, if not family, friends and community? What is life inside an apartment, scrolling, scrolling, scrolling. There is no such thing as virtual joy.
This virus is real and it is serious for some — primarily the elderly and those with compromised immune systems — similar demographics to the tens of thousands who die of the flu every year. So while we need not downplay deaths, we need to balance our approach to COVID with the impact and look at the bigger picture.
Since the restrictions began, temporary layoffs have become permanent for 3.8 million Americans. The number of poor has grown by eight million and an additional 2.5 million children have fallen below the poverty line since May. An estimated 60 percent of small businesses closed due to the pandemic in the US will stay closed. Domestic violence rates have skyrocketed due to lockdown measures. The Italian Health Ministry said calls to domestic violence hotlines registered a 75 percent increase compared to the same period in 2019, due to the lockdown. Domestic homicides have increased as well. In British Columbia alone, five people are dying every day from drug overdose deaths, recording its highest ever monthly death toll in June. This of course exceeds COVID-related deaths. October marks the fifth month in 2020 where the death toll has exceeded 160 and the eighth straight month with over 100 dead of drug overdoses in BC. Authorities confirm that the pandemic is preventing people from accessing the services they need — and border closures mean the typical flow of drugs into the province has dried up, making the supply increasingly toxic, due to high concentrations of fentanyl. Delays to cancer diagnoses and treatment will lead to thousands of excess cancer deaths, due to COVID safety measures and concerns about COVID transmission.
It is undeniable that the harms caused by lockdown measures have outweighed the benefits. Yet the left has failed to reckon with these harms and has failed to look at the long-term impacts of measures imposed on account of COVID, as people continue to repeat, ‘When all this is over’ as though there is any guarantee we will go back to ‘normal’. We have been told by politicians, experts and authorities that we will not. Dr Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has assured us a vaccine will not result in a return to normalcy. And were anything resembling normalcy to come, it will be too late for many.
Beyond devastating poverty, unemployment and death, there is more we can predict will stick: surveillance will likely become permanent, as will new security measures and tracking. Some ‘freedoms’ we enjoyed pre-COVID may become dependent on having taken the vaccine in the future: travel, shows, sports events, access to particular services or businesses, the ability to get hired for certain jobs or industries, or to attend school… Lower capacity regulations are likely to stay — and maybe masks, too.
Maybe your ‘normal’ wasn’t so different than it is now — maybe you were comfortable in your home; in your safe, small bubble, working online, in a stable industry. Maybe you didn’t want to go out to fraternize with the plebs, anyway. Maybe you aren’t a tragic single, now relegated to swiping through two-dimensional faces, your options for love and companionship ruled by algorithms. Maybe you have, like many, convinced yourself you don’t need face-to-face interaction: smiles, eye contact, body language, touch… Who needs to shout in another person’s face, shoved up against sweaty bodies in a dirty, stinky, humid bar, where you can’t hear anyone talk anyway? Who needs interactions with strangers, who needs new friends, who needs real pants? Everything is a click away. Why bother leaving your apartment? This had become our modern mantra before all this. Now, it is mandated.
But your comfort is yours alone. Many are not so comfortable. Many are suffering. And beyond the individuals harmed in all of this, we have the future of society at large to think about.
When we think of our rights and freedoms as rewards for good behavior, we lose. Authoritarianism does not always show up in the manner we might expect. There is not always an evil villain — a tyrant announcing tyranny. Often, the danger comes from our friends, family and neighbors, who turn on one another to save themselves. Sometimes, the slow creep of fascism looks like protection and safety. Sometimes, people fight for their own servitude as if it were their salvation.
Maybe my fears about the direction we are headed will prove overblown. Maybe we will go back to ‘normal’ a couple years down the road. I would love nothing more than to be wrong. But either way, I won’t forget what the left was gunning for. And I won’t forget who they left behind.
Meghan Murphy is a writer in Vancouver, British Columbia. Her podcast is The Same Drugs.