Monday, December 14, 2020

On preferential treatment

Chris Selley's thread trying to justify a fully effective anti-COVID strategy does manage to make an extremely strong statement. But it's not the one he means to - and it speaks volumes about Canada's warped priorities if we accept his examples and reasoning in the context of the violent law enforcement that we have been told to accept for far less valid purposes. 

The core of Selley's argument is this:

So let's unpack the problems with this line of thinking.

The first issue is the assumption that any excessive enforcement action taken by Australian police is a necessary component of a full lockdown strategy. And that's a readily disputable point.

Some of us don't see a contradiction between recognizing the harmful excesses and wrongful choices associated with the pursuit of a necessary cause - least of all to the point of abandoning the latter in the bare hope of avoiding the former.

By way of analogy, Canada has rightly apologized for the heinous internment of Japanese-Canadians during World War II. But that wrongful treatment of people in the name of an underlying conflict doesn't serve on its own as anything approaching a full answer to the question of whether that conflict as a whole was worth pursuing. And indeed, most of us would rightly be ashamed of the former while recognizing the justification for the latter. 

That said, Selley is also glaringly wrong in assuming that the tactics he decries don't surface in Canada. And it's telling when they're actually used, and what consequences tend to result.

There are plenty of more recent instances of protesters being dispersed and mass-arrested, often in a violent manner, for the exercise of free speech rights, most of them fitting into the same pattern described below. 

But let's remind ourselves of perhaps the most prominent example in the past few decades: the mass arrest and kettling of 1,100 people protesting the 2010 G20 summit in Toronto.

So what devastating consequences were there for the architects of that calculated assault on civil rights? Well, a single officer ended up facing some loss of paid vacation days. And the chief in charge saw his career derailed to the point of finding his way into the federal cabinet with responsibility for public safety. 

Of course, those were mass arrests in the interest of protecting powerful and privileged people from being exposed to the existence of dissent. Which brings us to the question actually raised by Selley's examples. 

Is it the case that we're willing to grant a superpriority to the convenience of the wealthy and powerful in all circumstances - both in allowing for the use of force to insulate them from criticism, and in rejecting any law enforcement which might ensure they don't blithely endanger the entire population with their disregard for public health?

Or do we have enough of a sense of social cohesion to recognize that even the richest may have to face some change to the life they normally purchase when the common good is at stake?

Selley may well be right as to where the lines are currently drawn. But if so, that speaks to a desperate need to redraw them - not to a reason to claim we can't do what Australia has already done.

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