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Smiling kids with masks on

Lawyer/mom working from home in Quebec: What’s best next step?

Monday, March 08, 2021 @ 3:21 PM | By Léonie Tardif-Archambault


Léonie Tardif-Archambault  %>
Léonie Tardif-Archambault
More than 10 months ago, I wrote my first article for The Lawyer’s Daily. I recently reread the article and it made me smile. Time goes by so fast, everything changes so fast, especially in times of pandemic. For those of you who read it, I was concerned about the personal contact that educators would have with the children after the reopening of daycares, all the restrictions imposed and of course associated with the pandemic.

As soon as my daughter returned to her daycare in the summer of 2020, I breathed a sigh of relief and quickly realized that our children were not being neglected or left more to themselves because of these sanitary measures. On the contrary, I saw passionate, demonstrative and equally dedicated educators who were for our children. I felt no concern or saw change whatsoever in my child, an equally fulfilled little girl, as if the last few months of almost total confinement had not existed.

In short, my worries quickly dissipated, and I realized that children have a wonderful capacity to adapt to change. Adapting to change is not always easy and I agree that everyone experiences it differently.

As a lawyer, I spend most of my time questioning myself about everything and nothing. I believe that it is in our nature to question ourselves. Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have been restricted by a series of health measures because of COVID-19; measures that cannot please everyone and that may have greater consequences for some. We are all very aware of this. Many people and businesses have been (and still are) directly or indirectly affected by this pandemic.

In the first place, this article is not intended to give any kind of opinion as to the constitutionality of these health measures under the article 1 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. However, I continue to believe that collective efforts and respect for one’s fellow humans, in terms of respecting health measures, help diminish harmful effects of, among other things, the pandemic.

As you know, as a mother of a magnificent little girl, I am interested in everything that affects, from near and far, our children. On Feb. 25, 2021, following recommendations from public health authorities, the government decreed that, following the school break week in Quebec, all children attending a school in the COVID-19 red zone would be required to wear a pediatric intervention mask, starting March 8. This obligation also applies to elementary schoolchildren.

Following the government’s announcement, I read some disturbing information on social networks about this specific measure. At the same time as this announcement, I spoke with someone for whom I have special affection, who mentioned that he had caught COVID-19; not the asymptomatic COVID-19, but the one that makes you sick to the point where you might have to be hospitalized, the one that leaves you with sequelae that you don’t know whether will be temporary or permanent. This person was and still is fully respecting health measures, but his children are attending school with the others. There was a positive case in his children’s class, which, got closed. Thereafter, his child received a positive result, you know the rest.

Personally, and I believe that this is the case for a large majority of us, we accept this risk in the interest of the healthy development of our children so that they continue to attend a daycare or school, knowing full well that even if we respect the health measures, we have no idea what are the other children's entourages doing outside these establishments. I would also add that we have no idea which parents send their children to school or daycare even if they have COVID-19 or flu-related symptoms.

I had the great opportunity to discuss with Dr. Marie-Claude Roy, pediatrician at the Fleurimont Hospital and member of the board of directors of the Association des pédiatres du Québec, the obligation for children to wear masks in schools. My first question was the one we probably all ask ourselves: Is the mask harmful to the physical health of our children and our young ones?

The answer is no, on a strictly respiratory level. However, we must stress that this measure must be temporary. Most children will be able to adapt to wearing a mask, but many of them present or will present particular challenges. It must be recognized that on the level of language or simply on the emotional plane, the wearing of masks by the child and/or teachers can present issues that are certain to be problematic. For example, and without limitation, because of cognitive difficulties of a child, or because of a family environment that is not optimal where the child is not or only minimally stimulated outside of school; education and learning lags, loss of emotional and social references could result in the long term.

Furthermore, it should be remembered that this temporary measure is being put in place to ensure the protection of the most vulnerable in our society. The presence of COVID-19 and its variants demonstrate that the risks of transmission among young people to their elders are increasingly plausible.

In the first year of law school and throughout our apprenticeship (and later in our career), we learn the the principle of the “prudent and responsible father”; i.e., bon père de famille. Would a reasonable person in the same circumstances act the same or similarly and make the same decisions? In other words, and using informal language, we’re talking about common sense.

Despite the government’s deficiency regarding our education system, which has existed for too long and long before the pandemic (which could be the subject of another opinion piece in the future and is unrelated to this present publication and the pandemic), we are still fortunate to have an incredible education system in Quebec.

The same thing applies for faculty members. Being personally and professionally surrounded by professors among my closest friends and my authors as their legal editor, I note their daily dedication and their desire to transmit their knowledge, but I also recognize their love of their profession despite all the difficulties it entails, in times of pandemic or not. Am I biased because of my vision of the importance of continuing our children’s education? I have no problem answering no to this question.

So far, our children are fortunate to have had a full school year without school closures for several weeks as we experienced in 2020 at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. We are facing an exceptional situation, where we must make societal choices and make collective efforts to reduce the risks of transmission of the virus in order to protect our most vulnerable.

But above all, there are our children and their best interests that we have to think of. Is it in the best interests of our children to deprive them of the education to which they are entitled because of the obligation to wear a mask on a temporary basis? In addition, the balance of convenience analysis must be taken into consideration.

Between closing schools because of the risk of transmission and keeping schools open on the condition that children wear masks temporarily to limit the transmission of the virus, I am in favour of this second option without any hesitation.

Léonie Tardif-Archambault is a lawyer and legal editor at LexisNexis Canada.

Photo credit / d anutaratanya ISTOCKPHOTO.COM

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