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Canada's Draconian Travel Ban Was Based on Something Other Than Science, Court Documents Show

AP Photo/Evan Vucci

When the COVID-19 pandemic began, public health officials quickly put forth a range of guidelines in an apparent attempt to slow the spread. Plexiglass dividers were put up in businesses; circles were taped down in store aisles, enforcing arbitrary 6-foot social distancing guidelines; Americans were told to wear face coverings, or maybe two, in public; and schools were closed despite children being at very low risk from the virus. In time, it was shown these efforts weren't rooted in science at all, rendering them useless or, in some cases, even more harmful. 

In Canada, where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took some of the most heavy-handed approaches to the pandemic in the world, the justification for the country's travel ban has now been shown to be just as farcical.   

On Aug. 13, 2021, Trudeau announced those who were not vaccinated couldn't travel on planes or trains and could not cross provinces, let alone leave the country. But court documents reveal the restrictions weren't rooted in science at all, but politics. 

The court documents are part of a lawsuit filed by two Canadian residents against the government. Until last month, they were under seal. […]

The whole point of the case was to lift that shroud and cast a spotlight on the unscientific basis of the mandate.

Among other things, the court documents indicate:

- No one in the COVID Recovery unit, including Jennifer Little, the director-general, had any formal education in epidemiology, medicine or public health.

- Little, who has an undergraduate degree in literature from the University of Toronto, testified that there were 20 people in the unit. When Presvelos asked her whether anyone in the unit had any professional experience in public health, she said there was one person, Monique St.-Laurent. According to St.-Laurent’s LinkedIn profile, she appears to be a civil servant who briefly worked for the Public Health Agency of Canada. St.-Laurent is not a doctor, Little said.

(Reached on the phone, St.-Laurent confirmed that she was a member of COVID Recovery. She referred all other questions to a government spokesperson.) 

- Little suggested that a senior official in the prime minister’s Cabinet or possibly the prime minister himself had ordered COVID Recovery to impose the travel mandate. (During cross-examination, Little told Presvelos repeatedly that “discussions” about the mandate had taken place at “senior” and “very senior” levels.) But she refused to say who had given her team the order to impose the travel mandate. “I’m not at liberty to disclose anything that is subject to cabinet confidence,” she said. 

- The term “cabinet confidence” is noteworthy because it refers to the prime minister’s Cabinet. Meaning that Little could not talk about who had directed the COVID Recovery unit to impose the travel mandate because someone at the very highest levels of government was apparently behind it.

- In the days leading up to the implementation of the travel mandate, transportation officials were frantically looking for a rationale for it. They came up short.

That was made clear by an email exchange in the latter half of October 2021 between Aaron McCrorie and Dawn Lumley-Myllari. McCrorie is the associate assistant deputy minister for safety and security in Transport Canada, the department that houses COVID Recovery. Lumley-Myllari is an official in the Public Health Agency of Canada. In the email exchange, McCrorie seemed to be casting about for a credible rationale for the travel mandate. This was less than two weeks before the mandate was set to kick in. 

“To the extent that updated data exist or that there is clearer evidence of the safety benefit of vaccination on the users or other stakeholders of the transportation system, it would be helpful to assist Transport Canada supporting its measures,” McCrorie wrote.

Four days later, on October 22, McCrorie emailed Lumley-Myllari again: “Our requirements come in on October 30”—in just over a week—”so need something fairly soon.”

On October 28, Lumley-Myllari replied to McCrorie with a series of bullet points outlining the benefits, generally speaking, of the Covid vaccine. She did not address McCrorie’s question about the transportation system, noting that the Public Health Agency of Canada was updating its “Public health considerations” with regard to vaccine mandates. 

Two days later, on October 30, the travel mandate took effect. (via Rupa Subramanya, Common Sense)

"What I have personally struggled with and have found to be the most unconscionable and objectionable aspects of how this pandemic has been managed is the unnecessary hateful, vindictive and divisive behavior that I have witnessed from neighbors, friends, family members, colleagues and our government," one of the plaintiffs said in his affidavit. "The words and action of our government, which has entrenched policies based on vaccination status, without reflecting the risk of those unvaccinated, is far from the warm, caring, and thoughtful Canada I remember living in." 

That's also the assessment Bruce Pardy, a Queens University law professor, made. 

"[The Canadian government's] policies are based on spite, divisiveness, and pure politics," he told columnist Rupa Subramanya. "COVID now serves as an excuse to punish the government's ideological enemies."

Which is exactly what the Biden administration sought to do as well—they just didn't get away with quite as much. 

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