With rights come responsibilities

I have heard and read a lot over the last couple of years concerning “individual’s Constitutional Rights”, especially in relation to the various COVID-19 health orders put in place by the federal or provincial governments. However, I have seen very little concerning social responsibility relating to the same matters.

Like it or not, we are all members of a connected society. What an individual does, or fails to do, affects many others. The Canadian constitution and the laws that derive from it lay out and manage a large part of that interaction. In particular, there are laws that protect a person’s life and well-being. We all expect to be safe walking down the street without fearing for our life. Most of us expect the governments to protect us from exposure to serious communicable diseases so why is it that when the federal and provincial governments put in place scientifically recommended measures to control an illness that has killed over a million people in North America in the last two years, as well as hospitalizing millions more, so many people refuse to comply, claiming imaginary charter rights as a reason to refuse? Have they even read the charter, or just the conspiracy websites? 

There is no possible debate that if the majority of Canadians had refused to wear masks in public or refused to take the COVID vaccinations, the Canadian Health services would have been overwhelmed. Far more people would have died from COVID, and just as importantly,  many more would have died of other causes because they couldn’t get treatment. 

Fortunately, most people did the socially responsible thing and wore masks and got vaccinated. Those that didn’t voluntarily made a decision to place limitations on themselves that were clearly laid out in government communications. I therefore have little sympathy with people who complain when they get punished for breaking government regulations they knew about. Decisions by individuals may have consequences for the individual making them.

There may also be consequences for others. Individuals who decide they don’t want to follow health guidelines and mandates are not only putting themselves at risk but also others. They risk spreading COVID (and more people dying) and putting the health services under extra strain. This is socially irresponsible, and no one has the ‘right’ to put my life or health at risk because wearing a mask or complying with health regulations offends their sensibilities or because they are adherents to some wacky conspiracy theory.  

I personally believe that with ‘rights’ come responsibilities to society as a whole. The charter is clear in stating that Canada is a democracy. The implication is that if someone wishes to continue enjoying their ‘rights’ then they must support that democracy by not being antisocial and not disobeying legally enacted laws and regulations. If someone doesn’t like those laws and regulations, they have a choice of challenging them legally or moving to somewhere more accepting of their views.

Graham Smith, Peachland

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One Comment

  1. Nancy Merrill
    July 18, 2022 at 1:34 pm - Reply

    Good letter, Mr. Smith. Whenever I hear the arguments libertarian thinkers muster while speaking up for individual freedom to act as they see fit, memories of growing with parents who lived by the golden rule come into play. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you is a fairly pragmatic ethical principle. Thinking about the ins and outs of this principle led to asking myself: Do I want to spread an illness to others? No was the obvious answer. So, I got vaccinated hoping that others would do the same. This is social contract much like the one that allows us to drive safely up the side of a mountain road and not collide with one another. These unspoken contracts may limit a degree of personal freedoms but we agree to these limitations for both personal and mutual benefits.

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