The impulse to severely control the free and legal movement of a population should never be the hallmark of a democracy (or a society), but sometimes it’s revealed during a crisis.
How else can you explain the bone-headed announcement of the Ontario government to have police randomly stop citizens as they drive or walk from place to place in this province?
The April 16 announcement was rescinded within less than a day, after dozens of police organizations said they wouldn’t participate in such an exercise. Some referenced the Canadian constitution.
It’s too bad someone in the Ford government didn’t do the same. Surely, among all of the keen minds that surround the Cabinet table – or even within the smaller circle of Ford ministers, advisors and aides that have been part of the decision-making process during this pandemic – there wasn’t one with the sufficient legal expertise to recognize that such random stops and questionings represent a civil liberties breach.
At any rate, the decision was breath-taking because of what it represents. It’s the sort of thing that routinely occurred in the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. It’s also the sort of thing that continues to happen in China, as that nation inserts its extraordinarily powerful will into the private lives of its citizens.
Here’s another thought, and it’s just as troubling. It wasn’t much of a stretch for the Ontario government to impose the draconian measure of having police stop citizens and ask what they’re up to. Ford and his team didn’t have to walk too far beyond the measures already imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic to be in a legal bind.
The concept of individual freedom – much of it cultural, some of it constitutionally protected – is so fragile that it can be easily and almost quietly overwhelmed.
Indeed, over the past year, we’ve had our schools closed, small businesses gutted, churches emptied and all but small gatherings mostly outlawed. And although many people have decried the government’s measures, others have quickly but selectively bought into it. Neighbours have tattled on each other. Some have even taken to counting the number of cars in a church parking lot before calling police. And yet the same intervention at a big box store has been rare or non-existent.
Governments mostly find it difficult to ignore the impulse for more control. And this crisis has revealed a government fully prepared to overstep its authority.