The pandemic has shone a glaring light on the gaps in our health, economic and social system and Canada’s Conservatives do not seem to have a credible solutions, except to distract by stoking fear and division. Conservative MP’s have taken to the airwaves saying ”criminals shouldn’t get early access to vaccines”. This is irresponsible and dishonest. The facts: the COVID-19 infection rate of prisoners is 5x that of the general public. Public Safety Canada has confirmed only 5% of inmates who are elderly or medically vulnerable will be vaccinated on a priority basis. The government is following the advice of experts on the national advisory committee on immunizations. Furthermore, the law requires a legal duty to offer essential health care to prisoners. Prisoners live in congregated facilities, outbreaks spread fast and can then infect corrections officials, their families and overwhelm hospitals. More than half of all prisoners are serving short sentences of one month or less. Vaccinating soon to be released vulnerable prisoners reduces the risk of wider community infection.
Some prisoners are on remand and not yet had their trials. They are not convicted and presumed innocent. Indigenous and racialized persons make up a disproportionate number of incarcerated. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms provides fundamental protections to all Canadians, including prisoners.
Instead of focusing on health care, reconciliation or alleviating social conditions, Dan Albas and Erin O’Toole use a reprehensible strategy of fear of crime – US style dog whistles of increased policing, harsher punishment and veiled racism – avoiding serious evidence based solutions to social problems. On the pandemic response and challenges of vaccine supply, it was the Harper Conservatives that muzzled scientists, cut supports to GHPIN (Global Public Health Intelligence Network) and to Public Health Canada. Conservative governments sold off Canada’s Connaught Labs, a world leading vaccine producer, and their provincial cousins privatized or cut supports to long-term care. The vaccination of vulnerable prisoners is a cheap distraction from more serious and pressing issues.
Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo Conservative MP Cathy McLeod now complains of “polarization”: Erin O’Toole, whom she supported for Conservative leader, coddles Trump wanna-bees, anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists, in his caucus, some of whom were on Parler, an extreme right-wing US social platform. As a member of Stephen Harper’s caucus, McLeod remained silent when the party fomented racism with “old stock Canadian” rhetoric, and a snitch line, or when Andrew Scheer stood with Yellow-Vesters. Erin O’Toole is the same guy who borrowed from the Trump playbook to win the Conservative leadership with his “Take Back Canada” race-baiting and “Make Canada Great Again” slogans. Conservative MP’s are caught wearing “MAGA” hats.
Canada’s Conservatives have been playing for too long from the Republic Playbook. And, it is dangerous. It undermines our democracy. Democracy is fragile. We are not so immune in Canada. We should not be naive – words and discourse matter.
1. I sent this reply to CBC Kamloops in response to the interviews with the Conservative MP’s to which I did not receive any reply, nor was a member of parliament from another party or expert on health and prisons interviewed for a contrary view or balance.
2. It is ironic that Dan Albas and Cathy McLeod use CBC as a platform to disseminate their opinions, when Conservatives including Erin O’Toole support privatizing the public broadcaster. A strong public broadcaster is vital to Canada particularly at times like this with so much corporate concentration of media and newspapers are withering.