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Why dissent is essential | Sam Goldstein

Tuesday, May 05, 2020 @ 8:47 AM | By Sam Goldstein

Sam Goldstein %>
Sam Goldstein
Civil liberties is a popular topic in everyday life so you’d think it would be a popular topic in an emergency, like a pandemic, when people need their civil liberties most, because I think the government is taking away our ability to put food on the family table and preventing us from sharing joy, or sorrow with our loved ones.

Recently, Ontario Premier Ford called a group of about 100 protesters “yahoos” and “absolutely selfish, reckless and irresponsible” for gathering at Queen’s Park to protest Ontario’s emergency lockdown measures. I disagree with him. Dissent is always important and never the more so when newer data doesn’t support the measures taken.

I think a person can take the pandemic seriously, be concerned about the impending economic devastation shutting down an economy might have for the future of Canada and, continue to believe that all emergency orders must be minimally intrusive on our civil liberties and objectively rationally proportional to the objectives the legislation is intended to achieve.

In other words, I think we can “flatten the curve” without “flattening” our rights.

Don’t get me wrong. I think all our leaders, including Ford, have done a reasonably good job handling the crisis. I don’t envy them for having to make tough decision about our economic lives and our general welfare.

Contrary to Toronto Mayor John Tory I do not think it is waste of taxpayer money to challenge a law that makes standing less than a hockey stick distance from another person an offence when making a law requiring people to wear a face mask in public is minimally less intrusive to our freedoms and objectively much more rationally connected to preventing the spread of COVID-19.

I know, in the beginning, we were duped by health information coming out of China that face masks were otiose; but, as soon as we learned otherwise our leaders should have backtracked immediately rather than doubling down on laws based on outdated information.  

I think it is legitimate to question the use of the police to turn people back from visiting their cottages when there is no law that makes that a crime; and, I can hold that thought in my head while simultaneously being concerned about country villagers.

I also think it’s entirely reasonable to question Justin Trudeau’s attempt to subrogate Parliament by giving God-like taxation powers to the minister of finance thereby bypassing Parliament’s recall for an extended period of 21 months. When the history of this pandemic is written Conservative Party of Canada member of Parliament Scott Reid will be remembered as the person who saved Canadian democracy.

I dare predict what will happen in Ontario when warmer weather returns, and people want to get a little vitamin D on their faces. There are few things worse for democracy than a contumacious public subverting or ignoring laws because the law is patently unreasonable.

Deputy Toronto mayor Ana Bailão, also tweeted that Toronto police will cease issuing tickets to people sitting on park benches. I’ve not been able to verify this. I appreciate her common sense, but the rule of law still applies. If the deputy mayor thinks sitting on a park bench should be legal then amend the law to allow it forthwith. Don’t tweet about it.

I make the same comment about public health officials who the media treat like high priestesses. I take your recommendations under advisement. I begin to question your respect for civil liberties when you begin telling me the need to prolong emergency measures until we find a cure to COVID-19. I thought self-isolation was temporary to prevent overburdening our health-care system.

Everything I’ve read about this pandemic has confirmed my opinion that those who trade liberty for security deserve neither. When do civil liberties matter most if not when in times of emergency?

Sam Goldstein is a Toronto criminal lawyer. You can e-mail him at and follow him @Willweargloves.

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