One clear takeaway from the convoy protest is the realization that pandemic restrictions and mandates are not affecting everyone equally.
Liberal MP Joel Lightbound’s clever retort of, “Not everyone can still earn a living using their MacBook while at the cottage,” encapsulated this sentiment almost perfectly. For many working-class and wage economy Canadians, lockdowns and restrictions negatively affected their livelihoods. In contrast, many governments sector or knowledge class workers were insulated from the worst effects of the policies that they are so quick to defend. There is a tone-deafness to the pain of people affected by these policies.
This differential impact is especially being felt in our country’s worst-off communities.
For example, pandemic lockdowns and other strict mandates could clearly have disproportionately negative effects on Indigenous peoples, especially those living in remote communities.
One heartbreaking story originated in Manitoba’s Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation, where a group of single mothers was fined $5,000 for breaking the community’s stay-at-home order in order to obtain essential groceries. One of the women facing the fines told media she travelled to Thompson to get food and baby diapers because the band’s grocery stores were closed, and the paid grocery delivery system was behind schedule. So, she broke the stay-at-home order to get food and provide for her baby.
These women had to face a “Sophie’s Choice” type dilemma between feeding themselves and their families or obeying a government-imposed lockdown. Many of these Indigenous communities face more vulnerabilities involving food and other essentials.
Canadians need to discuss the costs and unintended policy consequences of these restrictions and mandates, especially on vulnerable populations.
We need to take the mental and physical impacts of the restrictions just as seriously as the pandemic itself. We all need to hear the heart-wrenching stories like the one above to see how mandates are affecting vulnerable residents. To make good policy decisions, we need to have the full picture of how current pandemic policies are affecting people, including being able to weigh all the unintended consequences with the actual outcomes. Some policies are not achieving what we want or are just not worth the human cost.
There are likely many other stories like the one above we are not hearing.
Indigenous leaders should be informing their communities how pandemic policies are impacting average Indigenous people. Instead, Indigenous political leaders are using their preciously limited media time dissociating the convoy protest from Indigenous people, even though many Indigenous people are actively involved in it. They got lost in the weeds of convoy movement politics rather than using their platform to promote awareness of the impacts on Indigenous people.
Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Arlen Dumas and Manitoba Metis Federation President David Chartrand both criticized the convoy for “hijacking” by protesters with no connection to the trucking industry. They also explicitly mentioned cultural appropriation of Indigenous ceremonies at some protests. The latter is obviously wrong and should be called out immediately, but why aren’t these leaders using their airtime to inform the public how pandemic policies are affecting Indigenous people?
Perhaps these Indigenous leaders are also in danger of being out of touch on their MacBooks too. Like many politicians and activists, Indigenous political leaders were likely much less affected by pandemic lockdowns and mandates than average reserve people.
It’s time to allow these underprivileged communities to tell us how pandemic politics are affecting them.
Joseph Quesnel is a senior research associate with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.
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