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  • Jeffrey Zhang

Opinion: Taxing the unvaccinated isn't what Canada stands for

The case for COVID-19 vaccines is strong, and the vast majority of Canadians (myself included) have already taken them. They have saved countless lives and prevented thousands of hospitalizations. However, instead of persuading the remaining holdouts to get the jab, Trudeau has insulted them, used them for political gain, divided the population, and trampled on their freedoms and rights; dismissing the Charter of Rights and Freedoms that his own father brought to this country.

After Quebec’s François Legault promised a “significant” health tax on unvaccinated people this week, Trudeau chimed in to support him, insisting that Quebec was “right” and that strong measures were needed to fight the pandemic. While strong measures are needed, here is where Trudeau gets it wrong. This move from Legault isn’t merely encouraging folks to get vaccinated; it is unacceptable coercion and mandation that has even earned criticism from Jagmeet Singh and his left-leaning NDP.

Section 7 of the charter promises everyone in Canada the “right to life, liberty, and security of the person,” meaning individuals have the right to refuse medical interventions and are free to “make decisions about their bodily integrity.” This tax essentially makes the vaccine mandatory for many: if you don’t get the vaccine, you will get taxed. Period.

The vast majority of tired and angry Canadians, weary of lockdowns and restrictions may agree that measures such as this are justified, but we need to look past our emotions and realize that this infringes on the rights and freedoms that we as Canadians take for granted, or as the Canadian Civil Liberties Association puts it: “Allowing the government to levy fines on those who do not agree with the government’s recommended medical treatment is a deeply troubling proposition.”

The precedent that the government can make medical decisions for its citizens has no place in Canada, and is a slippery slope that we shouldn’t go down. Additionally, this tax erodes the universal nature of Canadian healthcare, tearing into the landmark Canada Health Act which enshrined healthcare as a right to all Canadians. It created this equitable, just, and efficient healthcare system (albeit underfunded) that guarantees essential care to all, regardless of ability to pay. Furthermore, this tax will do nothing to convince hardcore anti-vaxxers, supplying only fuel and motivation to their insane ideologies and stoking even more anger and distrust towards the government in an already precarious time.

When calling his useless pandemic election, Trudeau attempted to make vaccines the centerpoint issue of his campaign. He bashed the Conservatives for proposing testing measures to accommodate the unvaccinated and attempted to use it as a political wedge for his own gain. Legault, on the other hand, made this decision purely because his polls were slumping before the holidays, his patience was weary, and the momentum of frustration was on his side. He and Legault aren’t making these decisions for the good of all Canadians, but rather as a tool to tap into frustrations for political gain. True leadership would find ways to mend this divide and to convince these holdouts, not refer to them as “misogynists” and call them “racists.” This is purely playing politics and should not be what a leader does.

It is true that if these holdouts were to take the jab, there would be considerably less strain on our hospitals. However, this is no excuse to trample their rights and freedoms. What's next? Taxing those who consume too much fast food and sugar? Taxing those who don’t exercise enough and sleep 7 hours a day? These issues all contribute to severe COVID-19 outcomes and healthcare pressures.

Instead of further dividing the population, punishing low income earners, and risk creating an unrecognizable nation, Canada as a country needs to focus on the most pressing issues affecting Canadians, such as our chronically underfunded healthcare system, whose inadequacies have finally been laid bare by this pandemic, and the skyrocketing inflation punishing Canadian families from coast to coast.

I am not denying the undeniable science of vaccines. I support targeted measures to curb the virus and to protect Canadian lives and hospitals. However, I also know that it is not going to be possible to vaccinate every single Canadian. There is conspiracy and ignorance out there that has turned people into fervent and steadfast vaccine deniers, who cling onto their false and ignorant beliefs like a cult. However, with one-dose coverage reaching 90% and booster shots rolling out, we need to get Canada back on track through targeted and precise measures such as rapid testing, contact tracing, and PPE. We must not let these anti-vaxxers ruin the trajectory of our nation-wide recovery.

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