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FILDEBRANDT: Deplatforming is mob censorship

Any government that tries to censor them, is a tyranny. And individual that tries to de-platform them, is a tyrant in the making.

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The following text is the opening statement by Western Standard Publisher Derek Fildebrandt in a debate on “deplatforming” as a means of fighting hate. Video of the debate is available HERE.

The question before us today is a relevant and important one: “Is deplatforming a useful tool to eradicate hate?”

Unsurprisingly to those of you who know me, my answer, is a “hard no.” 

To start, let’s try to define “deplatforming.”

“Deplatforming”, is the private-sector counterpart to public-sector censorship. While “censorship” is the state inserting itself as the arbiter of what is permissible to say, and who is permissible to say it, “deplatforming” is by-and-large, private actors taking up the role of arbiter. 

While Canada’s press is by-and-large free, it is still subject to censorship around certain sensitive subjects. One of the more notorious examples was the attempt by the Alberta and Canadian Human Rights Commissions to censor the Western Standard from publishing the Danish cartoons of the Islamic prophet Mohammad in 2006. 

One of the Danish “Muhammad cartoons” that triggered riots in 2006.

While these same self-professed “human rights commissions” never batted an eye at art, or writing critical of Christianity in displays like the famous “Piss Christ”, they were only too eager to make a series of cartoons illegal for print. 

No doubt, the cartoons were offensive to some. But that was the point. These cartoons had triggered grown men around the planet to start rioting and killing people. Free men and free women had a right to know what all the fuss was about; and while most of the Canadian media cowered, the staff at the Western Standard did their duty as a part of a free press. 

As the bad press around the issue was building a groundswell of support at the time to abolish the Human Rights Commissions themselves, the government capitulated its own case in court (rather than face a Charter challenge). Since that time, governments have been more careful about applying its ham-fisted censorship legislation on major press outlets.

But since 2006, the lead role of arbiter has passed from the public-sector, to the private-sector; which brings us to “deplatforming”. 

However more prominent deplatforming is now, it is not new, and while it is primarily employed by the political left today, it has historically been used just as frequently by the old political right. 

In 2003, the Dixie Chicks spoke out against the US invasion of Iraq. At that time, public support favoured war, and being a semi-country band, their fans were disproportionately in rural and southern areas of the US that tended to favour war. 

Many pro-war Republicans set about deplatforming them. They were labelled unpatriotic, and therefore unworthy of listening to. 

But rather than individuals decide not to buy their CDs or turn them off when they came on the air, many pro-war activists tried to get them off the air. It wasn’t good enough that they didn’t want to listen to what the Dixie Chicks had to say. They wanted to make sure that others didn’t listen to what this group had to say. 

I raise the case of the Dixie Chicks, because today’s modern campus censorship crusaders must understand that whatever they may feel about a particular politician, speaker, or singer, this is a knife that can cut both ways. 

Surely, there are many individuals that hold views repugnant to us as individuals. And to that, there is only one legitimate action that free peoples can undertake in a free society: change the channel. 

Today’s campuses are riddled with students and professors that feel some – or many – messages and speakers are just too dangerous to be heard. That if people hear these people out, they will be transformed into goose-stepping storm troopers bent on wanton racial and homophobic murder. 

Supporters of deplatforming say that shutting speech down only applies when someone “crosses the line.” 

But where do they draw the line? Are any of them qualified – intellectually or morally – to draw that line? 

The de-platformers draw little distinction between a genuinely hateful character like David Duke, and someone who merely happens to hold controversial opinions, like Jordan Peterson. 

For my own part, deplatformmers attempted to pull a fire-alarm while I gave a speech on a campus about three years ago. The controversial, hate-filled message I was giving? That those on the right should not be afraid of the de-platformers, and should never stoop to using petty deplatforming against those we disagree with. 

Our concept of deplatforming now extends to the online world. Controversial personalities are now routinely “deplatformed” or “demonetized” to stop them from perusing a meaningful career. In some cases, this can be justified, but not only any grounds that they are “hateful” or “offensive”. Privately owned, online platforms are private property, and just as you have the right to tell a trespasser to get off your lawn, owners of private online platforms have the right to tell people to “get off my server”. 

This is complicated for major social media and monetary platforms however. When the CEOs of these tech giants are hauled before Congress, it is clear that legislators require them to bend to their political will, or else face direct regulation. In conflates the private with the public, and makes deplatforming by Facebook and Twitter an act of indirect censorship by government. 

For example, YouTube has bent to the will of governments around the world and blocked nearly all Covid-19 related material that contradicts the statements of the World Health Organization. This is a case of deplatforming silencing not just voices deemed “hateful” or “offensive”, but just dissenting and contradictory. 

This should serve as a present and dangerous example of what happens when states, major corporate entities, or individuals, decide to make themselves the ultimate arbiter of what constitutes legitimate speech. 

Some things are offensive. Some things hurt our feelings. The grown-up reaction to this is to change the channel, or challenge those we disagree with. 

This is doubly-so for those with genuinely hateful views. If a speaker is invited from the Westboro Baptist Church or the Iranian regime, shutting them down not only violates the right of people to hear them, but gives them and their hateful message credence. Potential listeners might rightfully ask themselves: “If this speaker is so wrong, why would anyone attempt to stop them from speaking?” 

Most open forums – like the one we are having here today – have an opportunity for questions and answers. Those who disagree with the speaker, can challenge them, and shine a spotlight on the inconsistencies that make up most hateful views. 

When then Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke at Columbia University in 2007, he was asked about his regime’s record of murdering gays and lesbians. His response that Iran “had no homosexuals”, elicited roars of laughter from the crowd. 

Ahmadinejad – allowed to speak freely – made a fool of himself and the worldview which he represented. This was a textbook case of allowing the marketplace of ideas to determine which ideas should sink, and which ideas should swim. 

All ideas: the thoughtful, the vapid – the liberal, the hateful – the innocuous, the provocative – all deserve to be heard if they can meet only two criterion: someone wants to speak, and someone wants to listen. 

Any government that tries to censor them, is a tyranny. And individual that tries to de-platform them, is a tyrant in the making. 

Free speech is not meant to protect the expression of the uncontroversial, bland, prevailing orthodox opinions of the majority, but to protect the expression of the controversial and offensive opinions of the minority, or more importantly, the individual. 

Only weak ideas and weak men require censorship to defend them from challengers. 

In a free society, you have only two recourses to speech you disagree with: don’t listen, or challenge it. 

Let me conclude by quoting then Western Standard Publisher Ezra Levant in his interrogation with the Human Rights Commission in 2008:

“I reserve maximum freedom, to be maximally offensive, and hurt feelings as I want.”

Opinion

WAGNER: The struggle for conservative & libertarian ideas in North America’s universities

“Progressives like to talk about the need for “diversity,” but do students in the social sciences really get exposed to a diversity of intellectual opinion on controversial topics?”

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In 1981, preeminent American conservative political philosopher Harry Jaffa wrote an article entitled, “On the Necessity of a Scholarship of the Politics of Freedom.” In it, he bemoaned the fact that leftist thinking dominated the academic fields of history, political science, and the other social sciences. Deterministic theories like Marxism were prevalent. These theories deny mankind’s metaphysical freedom, and he added, “from the denial of man’s metaphysical freedom to the denial of any right to moral or political freedom, is but a short step.”

To counter leftist ideology in universities – “the scholarship of unfreedom” – Jaffa called for a new cohort of scholars to step forward in defence of Western civilization’s historic liberties: “there must be a scholarship of the politics of freedom, one that stands in as fundamental an opposition to the scholarship of unfreedom, as constitutional government stands in opposition to totalitarian tyranny.”

There is good reason to believe that leftist thinking dominates the fields of history and social science today as much as in 1981, if not more so. Therefore, “a scholarship of the politics of freedom” is needed now more than ever, if the Western world is to be delivered from the left’s statist agenda.

Although freedom-oriented thinkers are relatively rare in the universities, there are some noteworthy exceptions. Despite the dominance of ideological progressivism, there are yet some conservative and libertarian political scientists, historians, economists, sociologists, and others in academia. 

Although he died in 2015, Harry Jaffa himself was one of the most prominent conservative political scientists of the twentieth century. As a speechwriter for Senator Barry Goldwater – and Republican presidential nominee in 1964 – Jaffa wrote a famous line that got included in Goldwater’s convention speech of that year: “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice; and moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.” That statement is still discussed today.

Generally speaking, freedom-oriented thinkers in the Anglosphere can be divided into conservatives and libertarians, then subdivided into particular kinds of conservatives and libertarians.

Some libertarian academics were very prominent in the 1980s, with professors Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman likely being the best known. Hayek’s 1944 book, The Road to Serfdom, is a libertarian classic. Also notable are his 1960 book The Constitution of Liberty, and his three-volume set Law, Legislation and Liberty, published during the 1970s. The title of the second volume is especially interesting today – The Mirage of Social Justice. Milton Friedman is particularly known for his 1962 book, Capitalism and Freedom and the more popular 1980 work Free to Choose.

Another significant libertarian is Julian Simon, a University of Maryland economist, who demonstrated in his ground-breaking 1981 book The Ultimate Resource – as well as in his subsequent work – that the single most important factor for economic progress is human ingenuity unleashed by individual liberty and free enterprise.

There are a number of libertarian think tanks that produce academic-level research. The Fraser Institute would be the best-known in Canada. The United States has many more, including the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C., and for more radical libertarians, the Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama.

There are well-known conservative think tanks such as the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation, both based in Washington, D.C. And in 1979, four of Harry Jaffa’s students founded the Claremont Institute in California, which publishes one of the very best conservative periodicals in the English-speaking world, the Claremont Review of Books

Also noteworthy is the Intercollegiate Studies Institute or ISI. Its purpose is to help college and university students learn and defend the principles that underlie Western civilization. It too, publishes helpful periodicals such as Modern Age as well as scholarly books.

Even the much-maligned social conservatives have some academic champions. Likely the best-known would be Professor Robert P. George of Princeton University and Professor Hadley P. Arkes of Amherst College. Among George’s many books is his 2014 Conjugal Union: What Marriage Is and Why It Matters (co-authored with Patrick Lee) which is a defense of traditional – i.e., monogamous, heterosexual – marriage. Arkes’ 2002 book, Natural Rights and the Right to Choose, articulates the pro-life position on abortion. 

In Canada, the “Calgary School” of intellectuals offers a conservative and libertarian perspective, and has been previously covered in the Western Standard.

Despite the tidal wave of progressive ideology overrunning college and university campuses throughout North America, some beacons of the scholarship of the politics of freedom remain. Their books and periodicals are essential reading for conservative and libertarian university students, as well as for parents and grandparents whose children or grandchildren are attending a post-secondary institution. Having academic-level material that refutes leftist views helps students to scrutinize issues more thoroughly and thereby develop a genuine critical thinking capacity, which is a key component of higher education.

Progressives like to talk about the need for “diversity,” but do students in the social sciences really get exposed to a diversity of intellectual opinion on controversial topics? They will if they encounter works by the scholars of freedom such as those mentioned above. 

There is a desperate need for Harry Jaffa’s “scholarship of the politics of freedom,” but it will only be able to flourish if young conservatives and libertarians avail themselves of current conservative and libertarian scholarship and build upon it. Hopefully readers of the Western Standard will encourage promising young people to take up this vital challenge.

Michael Wagner is a columnist for the Western Standard

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Opinion

MORGAN: When Kenney keeps moving the goalposts, ‘benchmarks’ mean nothing

“Businesses need to push back and it’s time for UCP caucus members to stand up. There is nothing left to lose now, and threatening fines for businesses going bankrupt means little.”

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When I was a kid, I had a cousin who used to invent new card games. I would play by his rules and the game would go smoothly, unless I began winning. Whenever I would try to play a card which would win the game, he would suddenly invent a new rule and explain why that card could not be played. The only answer was to stop playing his games.

The Alberta government is playing the same same game with its citizens and businesses, and it is time that we stopped playing by their rules.

As infections plummeted this year, desperate businesses began opening in open defiance of government regulations forbidding it. It was clear that the second coming of the plague was not materializing, but the very real possibility of bankruptcy was looming and businesses could no longer afford to wait for the government to let them open. It began with the Whistle Stop Diner in Mirror, Alberta and the rebellion began to spread like wildfire as food service establishments across the province joined the Restaurant Revolution.

This rebellion put Premier Jason Kenney in a tough spot. The optics of having police enter and arrest dozens of desperate small business owners in Alberta would be terrible, but if he let the revolt continue, it would be clear that his government had lost its authority to impose continued COVID-19 restrictions.

In a rushed Friday afternoon press conference, a clearly upset premier announced a plan for reopening businesses in Alberta. It was clear that nothing would stop businesses from flaunting laws if the owners couldn’t see a light at the end of the tunnel. People needed to see a plan and Premier Jason Kenney provided it.

Step one of the plan came into effect on February 8th and allowed for very limited restaurant dine-in options along with allowing some outdoor children’s sports activities and some one-on-one fitness training in gyms. More important than these small reductions in restrictions was the clear establishment of benchmarks for further reopening. Businesses could see where things had to be before reopening and they could see which businesses would finally be able to reopen.

This plan bought peace from rebellious business owners as they saw a route to reopening. If hospitalizations stayed below 450 cases after three weeks of step one of the plan, they would be to step two. Retail restrictions would ease, conference centers, hotels and banquet halls would see the ability to host limited gatherings and gyms would see restrictions reduced. People trusted the government and settled down to wait and see if hospitalizations would remain low.

On the morning of March 1, business owners were jubilant. We hadn’t just met the benchmark for reopening, we had crushed it. Hospitalizations were at 250 and dropping. We had reached the benchmark for step three opening. Surely, the government would keep its promises to move to step two.

It didn’t. Instead, the UCP government changed the rules of the game at the 11th hour and moved the goalposts yet again.

As can be seen in the image below, the government changed its plans at the last minute. Eager businesses were left to languish in an indeterminate state of limbo yet again.

At a press conference attended by Premier Kenney himself, he proudly announced that gyms could allow low-intensity activities such as pilates, while libraries would be able to open to with 15% of their capacity. This watered-down step two helps nearly nobody, and makes little sense. Why did they shut out all the step two businesses, while adding library openings (which were supposed to be part of step three)?

What is wrong with these people? What are they thinking? Did they just change their minds at the last minute, or was this phased reopening a lie only designed to keep rogue businesses from defying their rule?

Support for the UCP is already low. This betrayal of small business owners is only going to bring it lower still.

Infections are low, hospitalizations are low, and the ICU levels are outright tiny. There was no need to back off on the reopening plan. Is it only that the government has fallen in love with its new powers so much that they just can’t let it go? Nothing much else makes sense.

What hope is there now for business owners? Clearly none of the benchmarks and paths to reopening set out by the government mean anything. Any of the plans can – and clearly will – be changed arbitrarily. How can this government be trusted? They are either completely dishonest with their reopening benchmarks, or are completely incompetent. Neither scenario lends confidence to struggling small business owners.

It is time for the rebellion to begin again. It appears that this is the only way to get the government to relinquish the control over people’s lives that they so relish. Economic and health statistics clearly don’t matter.

This government is making its decisions in a bubble, and only through pending mass civil disobedience are they willing to back off. Businesses need to push back and it’s time for UCP caucus members to stand up.

There is nothing left to lose now, and threatening fines for businesses going bankrupt means little.

Cory Morgan is the podcast editor and a columnist for the Western Standard

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Opinion

NAVARRO-GENIE: Computer modellers are still driving the COVID-19 fear wagon

“Meanwhile, we can hope that media learn to treat #COVIDzero experts the same way they treat those claiming the virus doesn’t exist.”

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Renewed calls for prolonged lockdowns to deal with the new SARS-CoV-2 mutations are wrong headed. It has been a year since emergency measures were declared. Yet, the policy response to the COVID-19 crisis has been and continues to be moved by fear that is in turn propelled by statistical models incapable of accounting for risk and of pondering consequences. SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing the disease identified as COVID-19, is a reality. It poses health risks to a well-defined segment of the Canadian population. And while SARS-CoV-2 can infect everyone, the models and responses largely pretend everyone can equally suffer and die from COVID-19. The logic of this pretense points toward lockdowns and heavy restrictions for all instead of carefully-designed protection of the vulnerable. 

The initial reaction to this logic may have been reasonable in mid-March 2020, were it not for the fact that the panic-prone politicians discarded existing pandemic plans designed precisely to prevent panic. Their lockdown strategy, they argued, would bend the curve to protect the integrity of the medical system until it could be reenforced. Such reinforcement would help to save lives. 

The system did not become more resilient and the infections did not stop after nearly two months in lockdown: the strategy was a failure. But such failure has not prevented the continuation of wrongheaded policies and restrictions. There are now misguided calls for #COVIDzero (or #zeroCOVID), which pretend to drive COVID-19 cases to zero by wiping out the virus and all its variants, if only we locked down hard again for another seven weeks. Like the previous failed strategy, this one also is driven by modellers and their flawed mathematical models.

In March 2020, the world seemed gripped by images from Italy, Iran and China, and one model stampeded policy-makers into various forms of lockdowns. It was the work that College of London theoretical physicist Neil Ferguson led. Their “Report 9: Impact of Non-pharmaceutical Interventions (NPIs) to Reduce COVID-19 Mortality and Healthcare Demand,” called for 510,000 deaths in Great Britain and 2.2 million in the US. Ottawa’s model version “showed deaths would easily top 300,000 (but only 46,000 with a lockdown) in Canada, while Edmonton said 32,000 Albertans could die here and 1.6 million could be infected. World-wide, Ferguson and his team expected seven billion infections and 40 million deaths. None of that has happened.

Ferguson’s model raised troubling questions. First, Ferguson refused to publish the original source code and Imperial College refused a British Freedom of Information Act request. Writing in the Financial Post in June 2020, Peter St. Onge remarked that Ferguson’s code was unreliable and fragile, “giving different answers depending on the processing speed of the computer running the model.” Similarly, Chris von Csefalvay noted that the code was practically antique (13 years old), and it was written to model an influenza pandemic. Moreover, thousands of lines of code were “undocumented,” making impossible to take it apart and examine for errors — or to correct them. In his view, the code was “a tangled mess of undocumented steps.” Accordingly, von Csefalvay wondered how the British government assessed and validated the model. He concluded that only Ferguson’s reputation made the Imperial College model authoritative. 

Except that there was no reason to hold Ferguson’s work in high esteem. Ferguson’s “apocalyptic” predictions were gross exaggerations. An earlier model of his predicted 150,000 deaths from mad-cow disease in 2002 (the number of fatalities was 2,704). In 2005, Ferguson’s model predicted 200 million deaths from avian flu (455 persons died). Eventually, Ferguson resigned from the British Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), not because his COVID-19 model was so inaccurate as to be worthless but because he was found violating the lockdown that he so vocally supported for everyone else by entertaining someone else’s wife in his London residence. After the fact, commentators wondered why anyone listened to Ferguson in the first place. 

As if modellers were not discredited enough after Ferguson’s exaggerated predictions, CBC’s Laura Glowacki promoted Robert Smith? (the question mark is part of his name) in September 2020. Smith? is a mathematician at the University of Ottawa. He builds models for infectious diseases. As case numbers rose at the time, Smith? called for a “ruthless” and “draconian” return to a full lockdown “for a few months … [that] … could bring numbers down to zero new infections.” There was no mention of previous model failure. The country had already locked down hard for a couple of months, and close to 10,000 people had died, mostly in Ontario and Quebec where the vast majority were vulnerable people whom policy makers had vowed to protect and save. Alarmist modelling like Smith?’s pushed the second round of bullying restrictions. Smith? is not among the experts who see a tension between health and economy. In his opinion, the economy would be ruined without a full lockdown.

In November, CTV Infectious Disease Specialist Abdu Sharkawy expressed similar alarms. “We need the hammer, and that hammer needs to be applied with conviction. It needs to be applied with some assertiveness, and we need to apply the support that’s necessary from an economic point of view to the people that would suffer if that hammer is laid down,” he said partially conceding to economic harm. Earlier, with some awareness of greater harm, he said: “You can call it authoritarian, you can call it dictatorial. The fact of the matter is, there’s no more room right now for a balanced approach. It’s simply too late.” Medical experts calling for the confinement of entire populations a new tyranny of “expert opinion” passing for scientific advice. No matter how one slices it, the forced confining of entire populations is not a medical measure.

What is worse, achieving zero infections by locking people down is impossible. If that was not clear in March 2020, it is clear now. The virus cannot be made to disappear at will, and no amount of hiding will eliminate it. But model builders keep driving up the fantasy. In Alberta, for instance, there are dreams of creating a zero-infection zone, in the same way the province is rat-free. Last October, CBC found Malgorzata Gasperowicz, an assistant researcher in the Faculty of Nursing at the University of Calgary. She studied biotechnology at Gdansk and has a doctorate in biology from Freiburg. 

From a series of tweets based on her personal calculations, Robert Brown of CBC News Calgary gave her a platform for her alarmist prognostication of rising cases, warning of disaster is nothing was done “right now.”  Gasperowicz’ motivation appears in a pinned Tweet from July 2020 (@GosiaGasperoPhD). It announces “we can achieve COVID-19 elimination in Canada.”  She advocated turning Canada into a new New Zealand.  Her October 29, 2020 tweet caught the attention of people looking for scary materials and warnings of impending disaster: “It’s too late for soft measures. We need strong decisive measures + $$ support for businesses and people ASAP, in order to substantially [sic] *reduce the scale* of the upcoming disaster. It takes 3-4 weeks from the shutdown date till the peak in cases and hospitalizations[,]” it read.  Note the alignment of language with Smith? andSharkawy. Note how the tweet implies that there will be disaster regardless, but only strong medicine can reduce its scale. 

Gasperowicz pointed out that the number of cases in Alberta was doubling every 16.9 days. Nothing was said about what hospitalisations or ICU cases would be.  Nothing was said about the rate of hospitalizations being a fraction of what it was in the Spring. No extrapolations were offered, except to mention that there would be more “upticks,” as Brown called it. It was all about cases. Modelling for actual illness, hospitalization rates and ICU interventions may have proven far too complex.  

While Gasperowicz predicted 2400 cases for December 5, there were 1765 cases at the peak of the case curve on December 8. The predictions were off by 27 percent, but it did not stop Calgary Herald’s Jason Herring from qualifying her projections on 12 December with “impressive precision.” Gasperowicz described the accelerating rate of cases each 2.5 weeks in an ominous-sounding calculus category no calculus professor is likely to teach: “über-exponential.” Predictions for thereafter were even worse, and were adorned with a catchy slogan: “If we shut down on Nov 15, we will reach 3000+ daily new cases before numbers start to decrease. Either we control the virus, or the virus controls us.” Alberta did not shut down on November 15th and the predicted onslaught for early December 2020 never materialised. Robert Brown did not once ask questions about the origin of the data Gasperowicz crunched, the methodology she used, the assumptions built into the calculations, why the model stopped at calculating case numbers, or any shortcomings the calculations might have. Her “results” were all taken as Gospel. If all one wanted was to drive up fear, there was no need for additional information. 

With no mention of the significant error spread in her October calculations, in January 2021 Gasperowicz tweeted new warnings about the new SARS-CoV-19 strands, which she finds “terrifying.” She particularly worries about B117, the British strand, claiming it is “60 percent” more virulent. Elsewhere, she claimed its virulence is 30-50 per cent higher, and constitutes a “super-danger” Presenting freshly raised fears of the mutations, her model predicted that B117 will spread in Alberta above 2,000 daily cases by the third week in April, 2021, unless Jason Kenney implements another full shut down for 7 weeks. Seven weeks!  

On January 22, Gasperowicz tweeted: “#COVIDzero (aiming to eliminate all community transmission of Sars-CoV-2 as fast as possible) is the solution: 7 weeks of effort and AB can be like NZ.” And on January 27, she said: “B117 is in the community[.] Current restrictions are not enough to prevent its spread. Assuming 10 cases on Jan25 & 50% transmissibility of B117, we can have: 1000+ daily cases on Mar 23 2000+ daily cases on Mar 31[.] This model does’t [sic] include the effect of schools reopening.” We’re a month away from March 23rd, Kenney has relaxed some of the restrictions, and the number of cases is not growing. One can guess that April 23 will not likely bring “disaster,” if we go by previous predictions but Global News was sufficiently impressed to make the claim that Gasperowicz’ modelled projection “shows how a seven week lockdown will drop new COVID-19 cases to zero in Alberta.”

Gasperowicz has not described what the lockdown she recommends for seven weeks looks like, but given her intention to eliminate the virus from circulation, one can assume that it includes stringent stay-at-home directives, shutting down most economic activity and government services.  She also wishes to stop all travel, and published a co-authored column in the Calgary Herald in February 2021 arguing that if Alberta can keep rats out of its borders, it could certainly keep the coronavirus out. Although the column mentioned New Zealand as a model jurisdiction that had kept virus-free, they do not mention re-infecting flare ups. New Zealand had declared itself victorious over SARS-CoV-2 twice by mid-February 2021, only to call for another one in Auckland for three days. There was no thoughtful consideration of the spin-off and collateral damage of stopping and starting time and time again every time cases pop up. By the end of February 2021, with no explanation for the change in the face of the “super danger,” Gasperowicz’s recommendation for total confinement in Alberta, reportedly, was now only 6 weeks.  

According to Global’s Jacqueline Wilson, Gasperowicz says “all non-essential businesses would need to close and all international and inter-provincial travellers would have to quarantine.” That most jurisdictions in Canada, including Alberta, have made a monumental mess in imposing what is “essential” for everyone was not part of the discussion. 

A glance at the New Zealand case charts shows that the country has been at zero cases but for a few consecutive days here and there. Given that their standard reaction to reappearing cases (“outbreaks”) is locking down, chances are they will have more lockdowns. We have seen the same with PEI in early March, 2021. As Sweden’s ranking epidemiologist, Anders Tegnell, puts it: “fighting Covid-19 is a long-term undertaking, meaning temporary lockdowns will ultimately backfire. …once they’re lifted, infection rates will again rise.” And vaccines will not get us there by incantation either. Even with the vaccines, serious scientists do not expect the elimination of the virus. “Even if you vaccinate, you’ve still got a fairly large number of susceptible people there,” says Michael Head, a senior research fellow in global health at the University of Southampton. “So, we will still see outbreaks happen. Viruses simply aren’t rats. And when cases keep popping up, #COVIDzero is a misnomer or a deceitful expression, if zero means zero.

Alberta’s economy is plugged into the world’s and depends on its ties to the rest of the world, whether in agri-foods, tourism, energy or mining.  It could not easily close its borders, airways, highways and railways, much less for another 6-7 weeks without returning to the enormous damage to human lives and to the economy already caused by the first and second rounds of confinement.  Alberta is no island, making the virus here much more difficult to contain. Not that the issue is geography. The reason PEI has had so few cases is because not many people go to or through PEI. Conversely, Manhattan has been one of the most disastrous COVID-19 areas in the world.  The difference is many people want to go to, or need to go through, Manhattan.   

Although PEI and New Zealand are hailed as lockdown successes, they demonstrate the opposite point: it is impossible to hide from the virus, let alone make it disappear. #COVIDzero is a well-intended but irresponsible fantasy posing as medical advice that, if instituted, will again bring greater social and economic harm. So, let’s say no to #COVIDzero and to the fear it inadvertently peddles with the fantasy of virus elimination. Meanwhile, we can hope that media learn to treat #COVIDzero experts the same way they treat those claiming the virus doesn’t exist. After all, denying the existence of the virus seems as detached from reality as it is claiming that it will disappear if we hide from it. 

Marco Navarro-Génie is a columnist for the Western Standard, president of the Haultain Research Institute and a Senior Fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy. He is co-author, with Barry Cooper, of COVID-19: The Politics of Pandemic Moral Panic (2020).

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