Mar 16 – Comment and Question Responses from Carl Hahn

How can young people who are not eligible now for vaccines not be allowed to travel? What is the rationale for those flying into Canada need to stay in a hotel to quarantine but those driving do not have to?

I’m not sure that all decisions made by governments at various levels are going to have perfectly acceptable rationales. The decisions can be affected by a multitude of factors, including lack of information, conflicting governmental responsibilities, controversy among experts, political positions of the various governing parties and the core values of their voter base, or even simple oversights by administrators and bureaucrats faced with a constantly changing and remarkably complex situation.

The rollout of vaccines will lead to seemingly unfair consequences. How to treat people who have been vaccinated as opposed to those who haven’t is a conundrum for anyone faced with decisions about what to allow and what not. It’s nearly impossible to create blanket regulations to cover populations that might be very different in their susceptibility or risk-factors. It’s worth noting that people who have been vaccinated might still be able to spread the virus (just not feel the symptoms of it), so we can expect many controls to remain in place for people who have been vaccinated. Hopefully, people will make sensible and thoughtful decisions about whether to obey the restrictions.


A hotel in Mirror Alberta was charged by the RCMP for violating AHS (Alberta Health Services) rules for restaurants. But charges were dropped without much explanation. Can you comment on this?

While I can’t comment on why the charges were dropped, I will say that a boilerplate policy of not commenting on legal matters, while it does have good reasoning behind it, unfortunately destroys transparency in government actions and undermines public trust. People and business owners who have made significant sacrifices will feel justifiably frustrated when those who flagrantly break the law are perceived as simply getting away with it, without consequences. Such a failure to provide a clear and adequate explanation relies on people seeing the value in having made those sacrifices for the public good, and not being jealous that others made no sacrifice and went unpunished. That may be a lot to ask.


Do we need to infringe on our freedoms to protect others?

From a pure Social Contract perspective, yes. If Hobbes was right that we all have a basic right to everything in the State of Nature, then a social contract requires us to surrender some of those rights to protect others – on the condition that others behave similarly. If the question is whether we ought to give up those rights – in an enforceable way, i.e., have laws that require us to sacrifice our freedoms or close our businesses – then I would say yes as well. We all benefit tremendously from living in a cooperative society, in ways that we never really stop to think about. Generally, we don’t even notice the sacrifices that we make every day, because those sacrifices are part of our daily routine (driving on the proper side of the road, not taking what isn’t ours, waiting on a street corner instead of crossing against the light, paying our electrical bill to keep the power on, etc., etc.). Wearing a mask is a relatively minuscule sacrifice (we wear clothing every day for arguably less reason) but it’s new and different, so it got people’s attention.

Some of the sacrifices some people have been required to make have been more significant, so then we need to do a more thorough cost-benefit analysis. Is a person losing her restaurant worth saving the lives of a few people in their 80s? That’s a more difficult question, and the simple facts that go into deciding it are innumerable and can’t be determined – never mind the value-laden questions of how much a life is worth versus anything else. Perhaps the losses of some people are objectively worth the lives that have been saved. (Who knows how much worse it would have been otherwise?) Perhaps the government needs to provide more compensation to reduce the harm done to business owners and the unemployed. Perhaps the government is getting it entirely wrong: health authorities might be too focused on saving lives at any and all cost to others, and maybe that’s not a value that would be universally endorsed, even from behind the perfectly objective “Veil of Ignorance.” But I don’t have much faith in uninformed people shouting “Stupid government!” from their armchairs in front of the TV, either. Almost certainly, some of the decisions made by a government in time of crisis will be wrong, but the angry members of the populace would do no better.


How does the freedom to worship and or religion enter after an Edmonton Church pastor was arrested? What advice do you have for members who are not practicing protection of others?

Freedom of religion is not the same as freedom to worship or freedom to go to church; nobody has been asked to surrender religion, and nobody has been asked to stop praying or performing private rituals. What churches were directed to do is surrender their freedom to congregate, and they were neither alone in that nor a special case. Nobody has been allowed to congregate in large groups for any reason: weddings, funerals, sporting events, arts events, political gatherings, fundraising events, etc.


Have governments lost social trust among the people that is causing people not to obey orders?

Yes. Why people have lost that trust is a complex question. First I should note that it’s nothing completely new. Some people not trusting the government has been a fact about society as long as there have been governments. However, it does seem to be getting worse, although I have no quantified data to prove it. If it is true (and I suspect it is), it may be a result of the increased polarization of politics and the media, so that we have started seeing opposing parties as the enemy, and as dangerous to our well-being, rather than simply bringing in policies that we don’t particularly agree with.

All that said, I’m learning through newer, less patriotically biased research, that the blackout policy during the London Blitz was rather unpopular. Does it make sense that people would argue against a policy of hiding all their houselights to prevent their becoming targets of nightly bombing raids from the Nazis? It doesn’t seem to make sense, but some people were still angry about it. During times of stress, apparently asking people to be rational about their personal freedoms can be too much for some. This is why I’m inclined to look at questions of mental health when trying to understand some of the pushback against the laws and regulations (e.g., protests in Red Deer’s City Hall Park).


“Just a thought – Wearing a mask can be a life and death matter – reducing anxiety and putting someone at ease is not a life and death matter – thus the needed difference in the language that the government must use so as to show the seriousness of the issue”

I agree that the government shouldn’t take a lighthearted approach to such a serious matter. The related issue that I (and perhaps John, although I can’t speak for him) was raising was what the most effective way is to overcome opposition. It would be nice if a clear, rational explanation of the situation would suffice, and clearly it affected many people who started wearing masks before the municipal bylaws and provincial legislation came into place. The next usual step for the government is the rule of law: an order with an appropriate punishment. That was effective in bringing much of the rest of the population in line, at least in some situations, like wearing masks in public indoor spaces. But private events have continued, and enforcement continues to be an issue – even in the blatant and publicized cases. So how then do we bring the rest of the population along: the reluctant mask-wearers, the Covid-partygoers, the protestors? I hate to rely on old saws like, “You can attract more flies with honey than vinegar” (I mean, who wants to attract flies?), but sometimes gentle persuasion is more powerful. An emotional appeal might make a person feel more in control and less over-powered, reducing the psychological need to adopt a defensive posture. Perhaps some people need to feel heard, and have their own beliefs examined a little more closely so they can freely decide that following the rules is genuinely best. I’m not suggesting that’s a simple solution: it requires a lot of time and energy, and it’s difficult to feel any sympathy for some of them. But it’s something to consider.


While rights and freedoms are no doubt essential to a democratic society, some may argue that living within such a community (abiding by the Hobbesian social contract as it were) also entails certain responsibilities (i.e. mask-wearing during a pandemic). How does responsibility – personal, civic, or otherwise – fit into our discussion of freedoms, their exercise, and their limits?

Freedoms and responsibilities tend to come in matching sets, like salt and pepper shakers. My freedom to own property matches with your responsibility to leave my stuff alone (unless you get permission to borrow my pressure washer). Likewise, your freedom to enjoy your home entails my responsibility not to dump pollution over the fence into your yard. Mask-wearing fits that paradigm, assuming that it has been demonstrated that breathing on other people has become a risky venture.

There is, of course, much more to it than that. Frequently, our rights/freedoms conflict deeply with each other, without obvious resolutions. If I am to be free to enjoy my vinyl collection, and that entails playing it very loudly on my stereo, that might conflict with your freedom to enjoy the placid silence of your own neighbouring home. Who has the responsibility here? Do I have a responsibility to honour your desire for silence, or do you have a responsibility to honour my melophilia? Our society seems to have resolved that question in favour of the sounds of silence, but other societies could resolve it the other way.

As well, Kevin brought up the interesting question of negative and positive rights. Although I don’t think the case of mask-wearing fits the definition of positive rights (since restraining your droplets is a question of potentially harming others), as a supposedly just society, we seem to have an obligation to do more than just not harm others. We also have accepted a degree of responsibility in actively caring for others. Thus we have laws that require having pensions for the disabled, free health care, etc., and everyone who pays taxes contributes to the maintenance of those programs, whether receiving the benefits or not. Of course, not everyone agrees with using tax dollars to help other people. But it does seem to be a Canadian tradition.


When does Rule of Law matter?

For Hobbes, it always matters, right up to the point where the Sovereign threatens to kill you. Then all bets are off.


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