Exercising Freedom Responsibly in a Time of Crisis

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Exercising Freedom Responsibly in a Time of Crisis

responsible freedom

To have freedom means that we exercise it responsibly. This post is about the Coronavirus pandemic, the Emergencies Act, freedom and our responsibility as Canadians to act as custodians of our own civil liberties. 

“We have all seen the pictures online of people who seem to think they are invincible. You are not. Enough is enough.  Stay home”.

                     Justin Trudeau, speaking about coronavirus and social distancing

Emergencies Act Calgary criminal lawyers

The message is, if you choose to put yourself at risk, you are also putting others at risk; you are placing your fellow Canadians at risk. This risk is not only to the health and safety of family, friends and fellow Canadians, it jeopardizes the very freedoms that we as Canadians have a responsibility to self-manage.  

I have thus far been impressed with the Government of Canada’s restraint about taking an over-broad and arguably paternalistic approach to managing our social responsibility.  However, it is becoming clear to me, that as people thumb their noses at their personal responsibility to social distance, the Government may have no choice but to intercede.  This Calgary criminal lawyer prefers that Canadians manage their own freedom and not to act so irresponsibly that the Government manages our freedom for us. Once the State manages our freedom through the introduction of mandatory social measures, we may never have those lost freedoms returned. 

“Cherish, therefore, the spirit of our people, and keep alive their attention. If once they become inattentive to public affairs, you and I, and Congress and Assemblies, judges and governors, shall all become wolves.”

                   Thomas Jefferson

As Canadians, we must be attentive to our civic responsibility.  To that end, we must not be reckless, wilfully blind or negligent to our responsibility in managing and preserving our personal freedoms. Bluntly, to ensure the Government does not treat us as children, we should not act like children. 

REASONABLE limit prescribed by law

In Canada, freedom of movement, assembly and association are part of our Constitution.  Section 2(c) of the Constitution Act enshrines that everyone has the right to peaceful assembly; while section 2(d) provides that all persons have the right to “freedom of association”.  This means that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees our Constitutional right to conglomerate. Every right, however, is subject to a reasonable limit prescribed by law.  

A “reasonable limit prescribed by law” means that in rare circumstances, the State can place limitations on our Constitutional guarantees.  It is the opinion of this Calgary criminal lawyer that if Canadians cannot respect their own Constitutional rights by governing their own behaviour for the protection of each other, we arguably have no right to complain when the State governs our behaviour for us.  Therefore, to everybody who is acting irresponsibly by ignoring social distance protocols, I echo the Prime Minister’s words, “enough is enough”; for if this continues, you not only endanger others, but through irresponsible conduct, endanger the future of the freedoms that we routinely enjoy.

Built into our Constitutional guarantees is an implied understanding that all citizens will do their part to protect their own Constitutional freedoms. This includes that all citizens reasonably undertake personal responsibility for their role in maintaining both social order and the health of their community.  Sometimes selfish whims must be set aside for the greater social good.  


As I have previously written, a virus is a piece of informational code that can only be transmitted by biological carriers. Therefore, since every infection requires the assistance of a human carrier, carriers and potential carriers must distance themselves, perhaps even isolate themselves from other potential carriers. This is the most effective way to stop or at least slow the spread of a potentially life-threatening disease.

The Government of Canada has extensive powers under both the Quarantine Act and Emergencies Act to manage the spread of communicable disease.  For the purpose of this post, my focus is on the Emergencies Act.

The Emergencies Act cloaks the Government of Canada with substantial temporary powers in times of emergency. 

The Emergencies Act authorizes “…the taking of special temporary measures to ensure safety and security during national emergencies and to amend other Acts in consequence thereof”.  For the purpose of the Emergencies Act, a “national emergency” constitutes “…an urgent and critical situation of a temporary nature that 

a)     seriously endangers the lives, health or safety of Canadians and is of such proportion as or nature as to exceed the capacity or authority of a province to deal with it, or

b)    seriously threatens the ability of the Government of Canada to preserve the sovereignty, security and territorial integrity of Canada,

 and cannot be effectively dealt with under any other law of Canada. 

The coronavirus pandemic is certainly an “urgent and critical situation” that seriously endangers the lives, health and safety of Canadians. Thus far, the Government of Canada has been restrained in governing social management. It has largely left this responsibility with the provinces, who in-turn have hitherto largely placed reasonable responsibility on citizens to act in accordance with each-others best interest. However, as irresponsible people ignore the basic request to socially distance it may be that the Government has no choice but to strip us of freedom. When we cannot act as stewards of our own freedom, we risk losing it. 

The Emergencies Act defines a “public welfare emergency” to include “disease in human beings”. As of the time of writing this post, there were 395,694 confirmed cases of COVID-19 across the planet. Over the last 10 days, the number of infections in Canada remains comparatively small, but has nevertheless been consistently rising. As of the time of the writing of this post, 2,091 people in Canada are confirmed to have contracted COVID-19.


the culprits

I recently wrote a rather unflattering description of Americans who flooded beaches in Florida to celebrate spring break. To my dismay, many folks in Vancouver appear to be a similar kind of mouth breather, as evidenced by British Columbians irresponsibly flocking in close proximity to each other at beaches, parks and other social cluster zones.  

In response to behaviour such as that depicted in the above photograph, Vancouver City Counsel legislated penalties for ignoring social distancing.

For anybody who is acting so irresponsibly, do you not understand that at least 17,235 people have died as a result of contracting coronavirus? Do you not understand that many of them likely contracted it from irresponsible mouth breathers such as yourselves?  Do you not understand that as a result of the negligent – potentially criminal negligent – actions of people like you that families have been torn asunder by this terrible disease? Do you not understand that the longer this pandemic lasts, the greater impact there will be on our economy? Do you not understand that if we do not get this spread under control, people may not only lose their homes, investments, savings and freedom, but their lives? 

The longer people act selfishly, the longer this crisis will continue.

public welfare emergency

Under the Emergencies Act, the Government of Canada can declare a “public welfare emergency”. In doing so, it can avail itself of expansive temporary powers to include:

  • regulating or prohibiting travel,
  • requisitioning or disposing of property,
  • forcing a person or a class of persons to render essential services,
  • establishing emergency shelters or hospitals and
  • penalizing anybody, by force of law, who fails to obey. 

To reiterate, we have a responsibility as Canadians to not only preserve the health and welfare of our neighbours and fellow Canadians, we have a responsibility to the future of this Country to ensure that we do not, by our own negligence, selfishness and stupidity, further empower and already overpowered Government.   

To have freedom means that we exercise it responsibly.  Ignoring the need to socially distance in this public health crisis is not the responsible exercise of freedom.  

David Chow

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