Last week when Alberta’s covid infection rate spiked to record highs, the positive-test rate climbed to 10.5%, and doctors across the province begged for more restrictive public health measures to avoid the refrigerator trucks, Mr Kenney appeared on Facebook to answer questions about the restrictions he had imposed on Nov 24.
He appeared to be particularly proud of this exchange:
K.C. asked: “What is the government’s responsibility when people won’t take responsibility for themselves?”
Mr Kenney replied: “The government takes no responsibility whatsoever. The people are responsible for their irresponsible behavior.” Okay, that’s me paraphrasing Mr Kenney’s 538-word answer, but that’s in essence what he said.
He started his windbag response by lamenting that we don’t have a Charter of Rights and Responsibilities. Apparently our responsibility to obey the laws prohibiting killing, maiming, abusing, polluting, stealing, lying, cheating, etc contained in the Criminal Code, federal, provincial and municipal laws, the common law and the Bible are not enough.
He said instead of exercising our constitutionally protected freedoms to protest at a super spreader event that could put someone in ICU or kill them, people could register their objections responsibly by:
- Sending him letters and emails and calling him names (“a dictator or whatever, go for it”)
- Organizing online petitions and virtual protests
- “Go bully” (?)
- Organizing a safe protest where people wore masks and spread out. Seriously? You’re asking these nuts to wear masks to an anti-mask rally?
Then he addressed those who believed covid is a hoax, or the risk is exaggerated, or masks are ineffective, or the restrictions have gone too far. He invited them to talk to his friend who spent nearly two months in ICU “fighting for his life” or to those who have lost loved ones. He asked these protesters to “just err on the side of caution and responsibility and care for your neighbours.”
The thrust of his Facebook message was threefold:
- Be responsible.
- Focus your righteous indignation on me, um, virtually, because I can take it (I’m safely ensconced behind my computer, my issues managers, and my security team),
- Be compassionate (follow my sterling example of compassionate leadership. I proudly fought to overturn spousal rights for gay couples during the AIDS epidemic and I continue to demonstrate compassion to this day; see for example how my government changed the payout dates for AISH recipients to make it more difficult for them to pay their monthly expenses).
Mr Kenney wrapped up his answer with this: “So, yes to rights, but yes also to their responsible exercise.”
Mr Kenney is confused, again.
The Charter protects certain rights and freedoms subject only to such limits prescribed by law as can be justified in a free and democratic society. There is no stipulation that individuals must exercise such rights and freedoms responsibly.*
So let’s go back to K.C.’s question. They asked: “What is the government’s responsibility when people won’t take responsibility for themselves?”
Given that this a question about government responsibility, not a citizen’s Charter rights, Mr Kenney could have said: “The government must step in when people won’t take responsibility for themselves. My government declared a state of public health emergency and passed CMOH 38-2020 which imposed a number of restrictions, including one that limits outdoor gatherings to a maximum of 10 people. People who violate this restriction will be fined $1000. This limitation is necessary to stop the spread of Covid-19.”
Instead he blathered on for four minutes about the non-existent legal or moral requirement that citizens exercise their Charter rights responsibly. Not once did he suggest irresponsible behaviour would result in fines.
Predictably Mr Kenney’s sermon had no effect whatsoever. There was another large anti-mask/anti-restrictions rally in Calgary over the weekend.
Mr Kenney’s response? “Yes, we have Charter protected rights in Canada. But we also have responsibilities as citizens.”
He also said he’s “very disappointed.”
Instead of being disappointed, may we suggest Mr Kenney take his own advice and “err on the side of caution and responsibility” by enforcing existing restrictions and instituting even more restrictive public health measures before the refrigerator trucks roll up next to the field tents outside of Alberta hospitals.
*As my friend, law prof Nigel Bankes pointed out, it’s not so much that there’s an individual duty to exercise Charter freedoms responsibly, but rather that the government has the power (and arguably the duty) to adopt measures to ensure citizens don’t exercise their freedoms in a way that impairs the health and lives of others.