I was sad to read the editorial calling for an end to non-essential essential travel to Vancouver Island and vilifying travellers on BC Ferries over the long weekend as inconsiderate, reckless, lacking common sense and selfish. The editorial echoed similar calls from a number of local politicians.
The facts are that because of cutbacks in the number of ferry sailings and because of social distancing rules on the ferries, the number of travellers was actually quite small. It is probably true that some of those travellers were travelling for “fun” but do we really want to make that a crime akin, as the editorial suggests, to impaired driving or illegal dumping of garbage? And who gets to decide what is essential travel; the Ferry Corporation, the police, the local vigilante committee? And would the proponents of ending non-essential travel also want to blockade Highways 19 and 19A? If not, why not? If the answer is that we only want to keep outsiders out of Vancouver Island then that is xenophobia.
The freedom of movement is a basic civil liberty. We should only coercively deprive our citizens of that liberty in the most extreme circumstances. The case had not been made that closing down the ferries to non-essential travel (whatever that means) is actually reasonably necessary to fight COVID-19.
During these difficult times we need to show tolerance and understanding and to carefully balance the requirements for fighting COVID-19 and the need to protect democratic principles and civil liberties. Knee jerk authoritarian reactions from some politicians and some editors are not helpful.
Difficult times can test our commitment to democracy and civil liberties. We as a society failed that test in our treatment of the Japanese during the war. Let’s not fail again.
To their credit and to the gratitude of those us that care about democracy and civil liberties, Dr. Bonnie Henry and the political leadership of this province have so far resisted the calls to lock down the ferries. Let’s encourage them to continue to resist those calls.
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