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Don Martin: The case against mandatory vaccination as Quebec dives into latest COVID-19 wave

It’s never been done before, might not accomplish its hospital-buffering mission and is probably unconstitutional, but Canada is taking the first step toward mandated COVID-19 vaccination backed by financial penalties.

The idea was first floated last week when federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos noted he personally supports mandatory COVID-19 vaccination and suggested this unprecedented action could soon become an imminent discussion with the provinces.

Well, here we are just four days later, and a Quebec’s Francois Legault, a premier badly in need of a diversion from soaring case counts, announces a provincial tax on the unvaccinated, details and amounts to be announced later.

Aside from the queasy optics of segregating the unvaccinated by sharing PRIVATE MEDICAL RECORDS with law enforcement or, even worse, the tax department, to have a senior federal minister float this idea for a potential nation-wide rollout gives a troubling peek inside the Trudeau government’s brain.

For starters he’s elephant-stomping around in provincial jurisdiction while reversing a policy position his boss, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, declared was a no-go during the depths of an earlier virus wave.

Secondly, Duclos need only flip a text to his friend the justice minister to know that any policy involving the mandatory injection of a vaccine into unwilling Canadian arms under threat of penalty will never survive a Charter challenge in the courts.

Thirdly, there’s no successful democratic trailblazer in the world to guide a mandatory policy into enforcement.

Austria is the first democracy to attempt it, backed by $4,000 fines for the uncompliant, but they just announced technical challenges will delay the rollout until April when there’s a good chance the Omicron wave will be reduced to a ripple, all subject to variant change without notice of course.

But, most importantly, mandated vaccination as a stand-alone policy won’t necessarily prevent hospital ICUs from an unsustainable space crunch.

The undeniable rise in unvaccinated ICU patients is worsened by having the fourth wave hit at the time of the year where no-vacancy signs traditionally show up on every acute care ward due to the flus, severe respiratory distress, bad road traffic accidents or seniors falling on ice.

And that crush is exacerbated by those in the ICU suffering serious ailments with COVID as opposed to suffering only from COVID symptoms.

So it’s not entirely clear if this magic mandatory wand will prevent Canada’s ICUs from surging far beyond their capacity even if vaccination levels could be boosted.

Given all that, one wonders why would a promising new health minister presiding over the pandemic’s tidal wave would float such a contentious over-reach of government policy?

Easy. Duclos has play-hardball orders from the prime minister, who sees the idea getting a thumbs-up in polling and believes this is the moment to whack the Conservatives for their “accommodating the unvaccinated” position.

The way Justin Trudeau undoubtedly figures it, the guarantee of inevitable protests by furious vaccine resisters will only widen the wedge in his middle-ground favour while corner-painting the Conservatives in unappealing Neanderthal colouring.

So, what will happen if other provinces dare to follow Quebec’s lead and violate patient privacy to find and fine the vaccine resistance?

A lot of them will probably ignore the order. After all, it defies comprehension that a still-unvaccinated Canadian who has denied themselves access to restaurants, transportation or theatres and who is willing to walk away from a well-paying job would suddenly white-flag their arms at the threat of a modest tax or wrist-slapping fine.

And the enforcement challenges are awkward as we wade into this uncharted medical water.

It’s one thing to mandate vaccinations in teaching or transportation occupations which interact with the public, but a lot more different and more difficult to confront an unvaccinated home-office worker or force a mentally ill person to face a hearing on why they shouldn’t be fined.

Above all else, the current number of Omicron variant cases clearly points to this month as a viral supernova event, one that is now flaring into a medical monstrosity before it will likely collapse into a sniffling cinder by summer.

As such, the solution is not to launch the nuclear option of kick-starting mandatory vaccination, but to keep the thumb screws tight on resisters until they voluntarily decide the cost of isolation is greater than the risk of vaccination.

We must continue with an open-arms appeal to the unvaccinated, connecting them without judgement to first-dose appointments while blitzing them with no-holds accurate information to show that they WILL get Omicron or the next variant, WILL face a much higher risk of hospitalization and perhaps should update their wills if they continue in their denial.

Harsh medicine? Sure. But we put grotesque skeletal mouth cancer photos on cigarette packages so why not insert the gasping, ventilated face of an unvaccinated ICU patient into pro-vaccination public messaging?

We’re all frustrated, impatient and infuriated with the endless waves of COVID we were supposedly protected against.

But the route to calmer water is not using our private health information to inject needles into defiantly reluctant arms under threat of government-imposed taxes or fines.

That’s a doomed-to-fail policy which is medically-questionable, logistically impractical, needlessly persecutorial, likely unconstitutional - and un-Canadian.

That’s the bottom line.



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