- by Shea Angus & Ryan Brown

We are coming together to write this letter because this is a defining moment in the history of our country and the province of Ontario. We are two people who often find ourselves on opposite ends of the political spectrum. One of us was a political staffer for the Conservatives and a part of Conservative politics for 10 years. The other has been involved with local Liberal politics and elections for 4 years. But we share common, fundamental values of liberty and equality and feel the need to speak out now.

What happened on Friday, April 16th in Ontario has invigorated our fundamentally shared values and disturbed us both greatly. The government of Ontario, led by Doug Ford and the Progressive Conservative party, has grossly mismanaged its response to the global pandemic. To be clear, we’re not exonerating the federal Liberal government for their shortcomings. Vaccine procurement has not been on par with our international peers and more measures could and should have been taken to secure the border to prevent the import of foreign variants of COVID-19.

However, make no mistake: what the Ford government announced on April 16th was nothing short of a draconian overreach by the provincial government to blatantly violate our rights. In Ontario, we’re no longer innocent until proven guilty, which is a fundamental principle of a free society. Leaving your home is now grounds for the police to consider you in violation of the law; they can stop you, ask who you are, where you’re going, and where you’re coming from. Should you not comply with this unjust and illegal stop by refusing to disclose this information, you would be “breaking the law” and can be fined $750 according to the Solicitor General of Ontario Sylvia Jones.

Canada’s Constitution protects our right to mobility and defends us against unreasonable search and seizure. Without exercising the Notwithstanding Clause of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Doug Ford’s announcement seems to be an open invitation for police to defy the Constitution without committing to any due process. In practice, this may mean an abuse of power by police officers emboldened by the Premier’s statement.

Considering the nature of the pandemic, there are certain Ontarians who are more likely to be “out in the streets” at any given time. These are the essential workers who are disproportionately low-income and racialized. Take the warehouses in the GTA where outbreaks have contributed significantly to the current wave of cases: these employees will still have to go to work every day without paid sick days from the province, and may now be subjected to arbitrary carding and interrogation from police. These practices have a long history of contributing to systemic racism and the criminalization of poverty in Canada, and these issues will only be exacerbated by the ongoing pandemic.

A glimmer of hope may be that individual police services may apply more common sense than our Premier has managed to and decline the power to make random stops, as Waterloo, Peterborough, Ottawa, Guelph, Peel, and London Police already have.

This government announcement has emboldened and reaffirmed the beliefs of many skeptics of the good measures Canada and Ontario established to stop the spread. The anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers have seen their worst-case prophecy fulfilled by Doug Ford, and will now be even more skeptical of the steps we need to take to safely end this pandemic. The people have lost faith in their government at the most critical moment, and more people will die as a result.

History is full of examples of leaders stepping up or failing during moments of crisis. History is being written again, right now. It will remember the people who made the decisions that brought us to this critical point in time and it will remember those who sat by and let the provincial government shatter the fundamental pillars of Canadian democracy: liberty and equality.

When generations of the future read those history books, what side do you want them to see you on?

image: screen shot from Premier Ford's April 16 media announcement