Picture this scenario. My six-year-old son is hungry and asks if he can have something to eat.
“We have to wait a bit till I pick something up from the store,” I inform him.
A couple hours later, I return home and my son runs up to me. “Dad, did you get some food? I’m really hungry. My stomach hurts.” I empty the groceries into the cupboards. “I decided you will just have to wait,” I inform him. “And I don’t want you to ask again.”
This is how many faith communities in northern BC are feeling in response to Northern Health’s decision to indefinitely close worship services and seemingly plug their ears to the earnest pleas from these communities about the harm and hurt the order is causing.
When the order was first announced in mid-October, Dr Henry explained the rationale: “To lower the rates of transmission, to allow our hospitalizations to stabilize and enable us all to come back together safely to celebrate during the upcoming holiday season — I hope.”
Since then, COVID cases and hospitalizations have indeed dropped significantly. We expected this good news would result with an announcement that would allow us to safely resume the activities that are essential for many.
Instead, our hearts were crushed when, on November 18, Dr. Jong Kim, the chief medical health officer for Northern Health, extended the order on gatherings and events indefinitely. He added: “I will not be accepting requests for reconsiderations of this order.”
Given that Terrace (which had 52 daily cases per 100,000 population last week) and Nisga’a (74 cases per 100,000), have more cases than Smithers (17 per 100,000) and Prince George (15 per 100,000) and yet are excluded from the order, it seems evident that the goalposts have changed.
It is hard to see how the decision is based on cases. My best guess is that a factor is the per cent of the population that is double-vaccinated, with the western part of the region having a higher rate. Nisga’a at 86 per cent and Terrace at 81 per cent make the cut, but Smithers and rural Prince George at 74 per cent do not.
But there is a serious problem if the public has to be guessing why our fundamental freedoms are being undermined.
It is obvious our government has an interest in vaccination rates increasing. But this infatuation with vaccinations doesn’t give a licence to governments to do whatever they want. This is Canada. All people shouldn’t have to come to the same personal health decision to maintain their basic rights and freedoms.
For some of us, our spiritual health matters. Restrictions and vaccines may help extend life but Jesus Christ gives eternal life, where there will be no more disease or brokenness. I realize that others don’t believe this, but that doesn’t give a licence to government to supress it.
Canada is supposed to be a free nation. Our Charter of Rights and Freedoms lists freedom of religion and association as fundamental freedoms. These rights aren’t given by the government to the citizens when they approve of our behaviour. They are something the citizens possess apart from the government. The Charter was intended to be a shield to protect citizens from the powerful government.
We know that there are consequences to the health system if people choose not to vaccinate. But the same can be said about choices people make about their diet, lack of exercise and many other things.
Orders like this one come with a massive cost on the well-being of British Columbians. The recent flooding in B.C.’s Lower Mainland reminds us that there are more things to be mindful of than just one virus. Churches were among the first to provide assistance to the victims of the flooding and landslides. Thankfully, their doors were open.
If our government can indefinitely undermine our fundamental freedoms based on their ever-changing COVID goalposts, it shouldn’t be surprised when it sees a breakdown of trust. “Be kind” applies to the government as well.
Mark Penninga is the Executive Director of ARPA Canada and lives with his family in the Bulkley Valley.