Letter to Premier David Eby, Deputy Speaker Spencer Chandra Herbert, Health Minister Adrian Dix, Minister of Education and Childcare Rachna Sing, Attorney General Niki Sharma
Dear Premier Eby and Honourable Ministers,
I’ve always voted BC NDP, but with the end of public health for Covid in BC, I’ve never felt more disillusioned by any Canadian government, as I am in this moment. As a lawyer who believes in equality and justice, I simply cannot understand why you are stripping away protections that save lives and are minimally intrusive. As someone who has been disabled by long Covid -because of your failure to protect me – it seems to me that this callous disregard for the lives and health of British Columbians is blatant and reckless. And even more heartbreaking – is that this failure to protect does not seem necessary, and that we are doing it to vulnerable members of society (including children) before we even know the long term impacts. Facing completely unprotected and dangerous access to healthcare -when a simple mask does so much to protect various members of our community who need this protection- makes it unsafe for me and many other vulnerable people to access healthcare. I am cc-ing my good friend and BC resident to illustrate this point. She underwent surgery last week, on the day where suddenly, masks were no longer required in health care settings. Some of the health staff removed their masks while she was in their care, without asking her or checking what her personal risk factors would be. We know from leaked documents from VIHA that health workers are now encouraged to report to work, and not covid test or isolate, if they have covid symptoms. In this case, she was able to advocate for herself to request masks be put back on for her procedure and care. However, many vulnerable and at-risk people, as well as those who face barriers in our society, or are simply too ill (or unconscious), will not be able to advocate for themselves in this way. This is simply wrong.
I draw an analogy to help clarify the situation for you. Currently, our hospitals are not overburdened by the numbers of our citizens in hospitals due to motor vehicle accidents. Following the logic of our public health office – and your government – that means last March we would have stopped requiring people to wear seatbelts or use childseats in cars. Instead, it can be a personal choice, not to worry if more (including innocent) people are killed or injured this way, so long as the hospitals aren’t burdened (aka mask protections ending in public spaces, it is “personal choice”). This fall, notably, the day before Premier Eby became premier, we would retract our laws on speed limits, distracted and drunk driving (akin to mandatory isolation when contagious), since apparently our society no longer owes a duty of care to each other, nor does our government owe a duty of care to protect its citizens. We no longer require people to take into consideration the health of others when making decisions that could kill or disable. And now that the number of MVA deaths and severe injuries remains stable – albeit at a high rate, but not “overwhelming” the health care system – the government withdraws the protection of having police patrol the roads (aka safe access to necessary, life-saving public services – i.e. healthcare masking requirements). Hospitals “not being overburdened” is now the only metric considered as to whether the heavy hand of government is needed to interfere with the freedoms of its citizens. How would this society be perceived by those injured in the increased motor vehicle accidents, who were innocently going about their business when struck and disabled by drunk/speeding/reckless drivers? Especially knowing that their government knew these protections could save lives, but chose not to exercise their law-making power for the public good?
Since the BC government took away public mask protections last year, I don’t feel safe to access the necessities of life such as groceries and medications. Now, with this latest withdrawal of masking protection from health care settings, it won’t even be safe for me to access healthcare. Can you kindly explain why you think a society that shuts out and is unsafe for the vulnerable is okay?
Last I saw, BC lead the country in unnecessary unexplained deaths during Covid – we don’t measure Covid enough to be able to have certain causation, but it is certainly a cause of this. Every day, British Columbians of various ages and abilities are dying when they don’t need to. Our Covid death rates were higher last year, than in the first two years of the pandemic, but our protections have not remained in place. Many are being unnecessarily disabled every day in our province, when basic protections would mean these numbers would be much smaller. If you maintained some protections, such as masking in hospitals, schools and public spaces; and improved other safety measures, such as increased ventilation and filtration in schools and public spaces; and reinstating the requirement to stay home when contagious with Covid, you could actually save hundreds of lives. Every life matters to those who love that person. Each life matters to those who depend on that person. But from your actions, these human metrics no longer matter to you or your government.
Our health officer has previously advocated for kindness. But as someone with a disability (long Covid), I need you to know that resting under this rubric of “personal choice”, many of us who are disabled actually experience this framing of the matter as a personal choice, rather, as your government’s complete and abject disregard of the disabled and elderly, for how else are we to understand why our lives and health don’t matter? I try to maintain my faith in government, but those who’ve lived with disability longer than I have, have advised me that frankly, our government just doesn’t care about the lives of the disabled, as they are no longer contributing to the economy. As someone who is now disabled because of your policies, you need to know your failure to act and protect has real life consequences on the citizens of this province (as well as our dependents, like my young son who is negatively impacted by the state of my health).
Can you please reconsider this decision, and protect those of us who are vulnerable? Wearing a mask is not deemed a “personal choice” in other provinces and jurisdictions. Instead there is education and campaigns about how it is something we can do for each other, to keep each other safer and to reduce the burden on hospitals. We can think of the lives that were saved by educating citizens about safer sex practices during the AIDS crisis. We did not wait until there was completely safe technology – we educated and informed to keep our citizens safer. “Safer” was seen as in the public good. Here our health officer seems to rely on whether the hospitals are overburdened as the only factor to consider to determine if vulnerable people need protection, and is removing our ability to know what the actual risk is. But that is not in keeping with our government’s duty to all citizens, and contrary to its human rights obligations. And frankly, it is also false – we all know hospitals and our medical system are overburdened. The fact that our health officer is saying otherwise, seems to show a truly unacceptable lack of knowledge about the actual state of the healthcare system. If we could educate our citizens about how masks could make spaces more accessible and safer for all, and reduce the burden on our hospitals and medical system, more people would be willing to do their part. BC doesn’t keep public records on this -as again, I suspect it would make your government’s failure to protect more obviously problematic – but other provinces and jurisdictions who track it, report increased medical problems for a significant number who have had Covid, putting additional strain on our medical system that we don’t publicly track in BC (but certainly, exists).
Instead, under this rubric of personal choice, your government is saying it is ok to have a segregated society, where the disabled are neither safe nor welcomed. As someone who’s had a lifetime of good health until Covid, I ask, could you please consider that my life, and those of others who are vulnerable, have value too? For someone at high risk, a maskless indoor environment is like only having stairs for a person with a wheelchair. Just because Covid is invisible, does not make this acceptable.
If you will not protect us, can you please explain why you think the lives of the vulnerable are not worthy of protection? Why my life and health are worth less than asking someone to wear a mask?
Premier Eby, you have looked at hard files before, and made hard but intelligent choices, choices that were unpopular with some, but were the “right” thing to do. It is time to step back into the true business of government, which is protecting the public good; and put the Covid file into the hands of someone who believes in public safety as a responsibility of government – in our hospitals, schools and public spaces. What we have now, is a reckless disregard for the lives and safety of British Columbians when it comes to Covid; citizens who are not properly educated or informed about the risk of long Covid, nor the actual health risks of infection and re-infection. It is time to step up, be brave, and do better. I know a BC NDP government should want to do better, and I truly believe that you can.
I very much look forward to your reply.
Signed, a British Columbian lawyer with Long Covid