Decrees Will Not Control COVID-19 Contagion

Mobilize the People Not the Police to Solve the Problem of COVID-19 Contagion

Quebec youth have taken up their responsibility to the future of their society, as shown in this climate march May 17, 2019. They demand social and political solutions to the problems of society, including how to deal with the pandemic, not to have their behaviour criminalized.

On October 1, the Quebec government issued a decree setting new containment measures in response to the numerous outbreaks of COVID-19 throughout Quebec. These outbreaks confirm that the second wave of the pandemic has begun and several "red zones" have been identified.

These measures are accompanied by new police powers announced separately by Premier François Legault and Security Minister Geneviève Guilbault. The police interventions are mainly threefold:

- If they have reason to suspect that gatherings that exceed the confinement standards are taking place in homes, the police will intervene in the homes to stop the gathering and can impose a $1,000 fine.

- If people refuse to allow the police to enter their dwelling, the police can quickly obtain an online telewarrant from a judge to enter the dwelling and issue a statement of offence.

- Anyone participating in a demonstration must now wear a mask. Police officers will also be equipped with the means to quickly issue $1,000 tickets. The same measure applies to gatherings in parks.

Coming on the 50th anniversary of the invocation of the War Measures Act on October 16, 1970, the offensive character of these measures is particularly regrettable. The youth point to the irony of using criminal measures to sort out social problems. Previously they were criminalized for wearing masks at demonstrations and now not wearing a mask is a criminal offence. They point out that then and now the youth are demanding political and social solutions to problems. They oppose the criminalization of all of life where people are blamed for the problems and the state and its governments and agencies gets off scot-free.

The current measures announced by Premier Legault are similar to those in other provinces. They serve as an indication that the liberal democratic institutions have become ineffective in creating public opinion to persuade the population about the necessity of something. 

In this case, most people do not appear to be opposed to safety measures such as wearing masks, but they do not see the necessity to treat it as a police matter. They deplore the government's refusal to ensure that safe conditions exist in the schools, hospitals and seniors homes where the pressure on the staff is very great. This is because the overall thrust of the governments in Canada is not to protect the people but to pay the rich and blame the people when things do not go according to their schemes. The inability of the state and governments to mobilize the people in the fight against the pandemic will not be solved by giving more powers to the police. In fact, this will only exacerbate the problems and will not solve the crisis of the institutions. 

As well, media promote what they call "conspiracy theorists" who claim that orders to wear masks, or stay home, or not gather in large numbers are an infringement on the right to conscience as well as rights enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The claim is that they pose a danger to the security of the population and deserve to be criminalized. It is doubtful that their claims would sustain a Charter challenge given that the limitations imposed during COVID-19 would likely be considered "reasonable" by any court of law. What this propaganda does achieve, however, is to confound how the issue of rights poses itself, the role of the state and governments in using police powers to dictate the direction they want society to take and the fact that the people are deprived of access to the decision-making power.

How could upholding the right to conscience be juxtaposed with putting the lives of others in danger? Looking at matters this way, there is a problem when the state demands that people support imposing "reasonable limits" when they play no role whatsoever in deciding what is reasonable.

A serious problem governments face is that a majority of people are dissatisfied with the political system. They have no confidence in the institutions. This disillusionment with the political system and distrust of the institutions has been deepening for decades. Instead of solving the problem by affirming the role of the people in decision-making, the ruling elites resort to diversions to justify activating their police powers.

At the moment there are tens of thousands of teachers fighting every day to guarantee their safety and that of their students, but the government prevents them from playing the decisive role which belongs to them in deciding how to proceed. It is refusing to even listen to the demands to fund enough personal or safety measures or ventilation even though problems such as COVID-19 are likely to become more common in future.

Quebec health care workers demonstrate outside the national assembly in Quebec City, May 19, 2020. They demand that ministerial orders not be used to curtail their rights and prevent them from taking measures to protect their safety and that of their patients during the pandemic.

There are tens of thousands of workers in the health system who are putting their lives on the line to treat the population and find solutions to the crisis. The government responds with ministerial orders so that it can treat workers like pawns on a chess board and thinks it can keep control of the situation that way.

There are currently hundreds of thousands of industrial workers fighting to maintain the measures they have put in place to protect themselves, but management has been given license to run enterprises with no regard for the needs of the work force. They are blocking the workers outright and overturning their initiatives despite the fact that the coronavirus does not obey their orders.

The great mass of youth want nothing more than to be responsible toward society but they too are not respected.

At a time when neo-liberal globalization will give free rein to even more pandemics and contagions, liberal democratic institutions are in crisis. To believe that real problems can be sorted out without the all-out political and ideological mobilization of the human factor/social consciousness is foolish. Turning social and political problems into law and order problems is not only foolish, it is irresponsible. When lives are at stake, it should be considered criminal. It is certainly diversionary and the working people should respond by demanding that adequate measures be put in place to ensure the safety of the population in all aspects of life.

For governments to accuse individuals of being socially irresponsible when the people have no mechanisms to hold them to account shows that the main problem facing the working people is how to organize themselves socially and politically to renew the democratic process. A political process worthy of the name democratic would not bring governments to power which pay the rich and wield the decision-making processes in their interests.

Social and political problems require social and political solutions, not the criminalization of the people. No to Rule by Decree! Police powers only concentrate decision-making in fewer hands. New social and political forms have to be created to vest the people with decision-making power.

(Translated from original French by TML. Photos: TML, Climat jeunes, M-H. Nadeau, FIQ)

This article was published in

Volume 50 Number 38 - October 10, 2020

Article Link:
Decrees Will Not Control COVID-19 Contagion: Mobilize the People Not the Police to Solve the Problem of COVID-19 Contagion - Normand Chouinard


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