News Round-Up -- June 2022

Changes to pandemic restrictions, the Toronto van attack sentencing, and interesting bills in Parliament.

I didn’t mean to go on a three-month hiatus after my last article, yet here we are. I’ve hit unexpected issues starting a new online project, coupled with a busier pace of life leading up to our first “normal” summer in a while. But now I’m back, and here’s my take on a few things I’ve found noteworthy this month.

COVID-19: Have We Come Full Circle?

As I write this, the federal government has significantly relaxed travel-related COVID measures. Random testing for arriving passengers has been suspended, and unvaccinated Canadians are now allowed to fly. Undoubtedly this stemmed from sustained public pressure over the last few weeks, especially from the travel and tourism industry. The economy is pretty complicated right now, with inflation and interest rate hikes causing concern across the country. Surely the government didn’t need the noise around travel restrictions. And on a somewhat related note, last Friday the COVID Alert app invited me to uninstall it from my phone.

What took the government so long? Theories abound, but I like to look at these things philosophically. The federal government made vaccination a moral issue. Health decisions generally are personal affairs for Canadians. But the government’s language systematically classified the vaccinated as “those who did the right thing”, morally disqualifying those who chose not to get the vaccine for whatever reason. You could argue this made sense in the context of preserving lives and the greater social good. But Omicron changed everything. The simple facts are that current vaccines are no longer as effective at preventing infections as they were against the ancestral variant. (Thankfully, they still seem to help prevent serious illness and hospitalization.) A very large proportion of us are already vaccinated. And random testing of arriving passengers isn’t that effective at catching new waves or variants, either. But backing down from morality-driven decisions takes significant political and economical pressure.

I’m noy trying to dunk on the government or the Prime Minister. With so much at stake, any of us would have done the same. By this I mean, we too would have grounded our decisions in our worldview – our deeply held convictions about reality, knowledge, and ethics. I’m sure people can find political and other tactical considerations to justify these decisions, but I think that it helps to look deeper, and to reflect on how we develop and sustain our deepest convictions.

A necessary clarification, especially if this is your first time here: I’m not an anti-vaxxer. In fact, my booster is almost six months old at this point, because I was early in line for my age group. I’m a big fan of the science behind these mRNA vaccines. But I was blessed and privileged to make that decision in complete freedom, undisturbed by work and social pressures. It is possible to be pro-vaccines and anti-mandates, especially if you actually follow the science trying not to impose political presuppositions on it.

In any case, I’m glad the mandates are mostly over. Hopefully this paves the way for less division and more collaboration in Canadian politics and society – desperately needed in these difficult times.

Toronto Van Attack Perpetrator Sentenced

Last week saw the sentencing hearing of the perpetrator of 2018’s Toronto van attack. In March last year, the attacker was found guilty of 10 charges of first-degree murder and 16 charges of attempted murder. In Canada, a first-degree murder conviction automatically carries a life sentence, which Ontario’s Superior Court Justice Anne Molloy confirmed, specifying no right to parole for 25 years.

As expected, the sentencing hearing was emotional, filled with powerful victim impact statements. These are harrowing events, just like the recent round of shootings south of the border. There’s been a couple of recent tragedies in my family too; nowhere near this scale, but they invite very similar questions. Why did God let his happen? What’s the point of these senseless losses? Many questions, none with easy answers.

When events like these happen, a more fundamental question can come up: doesn’t this prove that God doesn’t exist? Philosophers know this as the problem of evil. You can read more about it here.

Bills on the Hill

Finally, I just want to call out two bills currently in the House of Commons that I find interesting, especially with only hours left before Parliament rises for the summer. Bill C11 is the so-called Online Streaming Act, and Bill C21 seeks to implement recently announced restrictions on handguns and other firearms. The reason I find these bills particularly interesting is that they touch on the ever-important topics of rights and freedoms, and I’ll definitely have more to say on them as they progress further through Parliament. (Last-minute update: it looks like C11 was cleared the House as this article was going live.)

That’s it for now. Expect an announcement on my new online project in about a month, at which point I’ll again have more time to write here. Have a pleasant summer!

Published: June 20, 2022