Category Archives: Freedom

A Spectrum of Mandates

 

I have tried to establish that the majority in a democratic society are allowed to impose vaccines on others who do not want to take them. I have tried to establish that on the basis of Mill’s principle of liberty enunciated in his book On Liberty.  Many of us now call the right which we have not to have actions imposed on us the principle of autonomy. I think that is a very important principle, but it is not an unlimited right.

Harms can be imposed on us if that is necessary to prevent us causing harm to others. It is of course necessary to weigh the harm avoided against the harm imposed.  The harm imposed must be less than the harm avoided, otherwise we have created greater harm by our actions. Sometimes, the ends justify the means. I will have more to say on that later.

Therefore, the harm caused by the mandate must be less than the harm avoided.

I suggest that there is a range of harms involved in mandates that depend upon the type of mandate. For example, the mandate could involve manacling the citizen and forcibly inflicting a needle with the vaccine into the body of the resister. That would be the most serious harm. It could cause great harm on the resister.  It certainly would elicit widespread opposition. I have seen photos of such a procedure being imposed on women’s suffragettes in the United States. They went on a hunger strike in the early 20th century to influence the American government, led by Woodrow Wilson, to grant women the right to vote.  They were horrific images of a woman being held while a tube was inserted into her mouth  through which food flowed against her will into her stomach.. The images probably went a long way toward persuading the public that perhaps their position was too strong and they lost public support. The same thing might happen with vaccines.

Unlike, forcing women to take food, I have argued that we would be morally justified in forcing vaccine Resisters to take the vaccines. But perhaps, such images, and there surely would be images, would quickly circulate and could persuade citizens that the government was going too far. As a result, such measures might be counterproductive.  Perhaps even though vaccine mandates are permissible we would be wise to avoid at least the more serious harms in the spectrum of harms. The spectrum of mandates could be from the smart to the stupid. I prefer the smart, though that is not always easy to determine.

We already have imposed some lesser measures that still go by the name of mandates. For example, we now require some employees in some situations, to be vaccinated, in order to work.  The loss of employment is obviously a serious harm imposed on the resisters.

We have also imposed restrictions on the unvaccinated to refrain from entering restaurants or certain stores or certain facilities such as hospitals or personal care homes for the purpose of visiting loved ones. Again these are serious harms but less draconian than the manacles.

Even though mandates are justified in my opinion we must be smart in choosing those that are the most effective and least counter productive.

We need smart mandates.

Vaccine Mandates are Morally Permitted

Vaccine Mandates are Morally Permitted

 

Mill’s principle says that the only reasonable limit on freedom is the prevention of harms to others. What is the harm in refusing to take vaccines?

The way I see it there are a number of  harms that are avoided by compelling others to take vaccines they do not want to take. One of them is that refusal to take vaccines gives the deadly virus that causes Covid-19 an increased opportunity to spread that it should not have. The longer the virus is allowed to circulate the more people can get infected, and seriously ill, or even die. The more people get vaccinated the better the chance is that the virus will be stopped in its tracks. Scientists have persuaded me that widespread vaccination is our best chance at stopping the virus. People who resist the vaccines are helping the virus to spread and infect others. This is a serious harm to others.

There is significant evidence that the virus can be spread by the vaccinated as well as the unvaccinated. If it were equally possible for either group to spread the virus there would be no reason for us to impose vaccines on others, on that  basis since it would not make a difference to others.  The chance of others  catching Covid-19 would then be no higher or lower than   Then a vaccine mandate would not justified on this basis at least.  So far as I have learned the spread is greater by the unvaccinated so I think the case is still strong that imposing a vaccine on others against their will is permissible to avoid the greater harm to others.

As well, the longer the virus is allowed to circulate unchecked the greater the chances that the virus will evolve and develop new variants that are even more dangerous than the ones we have now. This can endanger not just us in the vicinity but actually people around the world. We are seeing this right now around the world with the spread of the new virus Omicron. We also saw it earlier with the evolution of the Delta variant. New variants might be available to evade the vaccines again putting other people at great risk of harm.

These are serious harms that people who refused to get vaccinated without a sound medical exemption are inflicting on others, so, in my opinion, the majority has the right to compel people to take the vaccine. I think the case for vaccine mandates is a strong one.

Limits on Freedom

 

John Stuart Mill pointed out, more than 150 years ago, that much of what makes life good is dependent upon controlling or limiting interference by other people. This is really the basis of liberalism. This limitation is critical to the enjoyment of life. Some limits are absolutely necessary, while others are not.  His book On Liberty tries to define those limits. It is worth reading. I recently re-read it after many years.

In essence the problem, as Mill defined it, is that even in a democracy we must be able to resist the imposition of duties by the majority in some cases, though not all. For example, no one would argue that it is wrong to prohibit murder or assaults. Would the imposition of a vaccination mandate by the majority as represented by its elected  government fit into the category of permitted or non-permitted infringements of freedom? That is the question I am trying to answer in a meandering fashion. Mill sought a principle that would assist people in determining into which category an example or proposed example of government interference would fit.  I think that is a worthy goal.

This is the principle that Mill proposed:

“That principle is, that the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forebear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because in the opinion of others, to do so would be wise, or even right. These are good reasons for remonstrating with him, or reasoning with him, or persuading him, or entreating him,  but not for compelling him, or visiting him with any evil in case he do otherwise. The only part of the conduct of anyone, for which he is amendable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.”

 

That is the reasonable limit on a person’s freedom.

Mill also reminds that this does not mean one can do whatever one chooses to do no matter what the consequences.  Famously, others have said, ‘your freedom to swing your hand stops at my nose’. They really mean at anyone else’s nose. Mill put it more elegantly this way: “The only freedom which deserves the name, is that of pursuing our good in our way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it.”

 Mill accepts only 1 important qualification, that this principle is only for the benefit of “human beings in the maturity of their faculties.” Children cannot claim the benefits of this principle, in Mill’s view, and must abide by instructions imposed on them by their parents, and to some extent even others.

With some qualifications that I won’t get into here, I accept this principle. How does this principle apply to the question at hand? How does it apply to the case of whether or not it is permitted for society to say we demand everyone to be vaccinated unless there is a good  reason for not doing so?

Clearly, on the basis of these principles, we should be allowed to take the vaccine or not, as we choose, so long as we do not harm others by our choice. I agree with that. Does refraining from taking the vaccine harm others? On its face, the vaccine is designed to protect ourselves from the most harmful effects of Covid-19. But this does not resolve the matter. Our choice can affect others. In other words, if the evidence establishes that my refusal to take the vaccine affects others that is significant, and if the harm caused is great enough could warrant an imposition that compels me to take the vaccine to some extent at least.

Tyranny of the Majority

 

John Stuart Mill also recognized that just because society made  decisions (such as to impose vaccine sanctions or not) in a democratic manner would not give the decision the right to override the essential liberties. There should be limits on the power of society through the ruler, even if a democratic ruler, over members of society—i.e. individuals. That is exactly what liberty means. Certain immunities or “political liberties or rights” would be so important that it would be regarded as a breach of the duty in the ruler” if he infringed them, even if that rule consisted of a democratic ruler, such as Parliament. As Mill said, “The limitation, therefore, of the power of government over individuals loses none of its importance when the holders of power are regularly accountable to the community.” Even democratic governments must abide by these limitations.

 

Mill recognized that the people, or a majority of the people, in some cases might want to oppress an individual or a part of a group.  Just like liberty is not absolute, so the power of the ruler/authority must therefore be limited or constrained as well and cannot be absolute. Some people forget this important aspect of Mill’s thought. Some people think that provided a decision is made by the majority they can do whatever they want. Mill denies this.  There must be limits even on the power of the majority.  In fact, Mill had a powerful expression for this—i.e. “the tyranny of the majority.” Mill said, “ ‘the tyranny of the majority’ is now generally included among the evils against which society requires to be on its guard.” So, just because the majority of the people think they should impose the obligation on an individual to get vaccinated does not of itself make that decision just.

Mill waxed eloquent on this subject:

“Protection, therefore, against the tyranny of magistrate is not enough: there needs protection also against the tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling…There is limit to the legitimate interference of collective opinion with individual independence: and to find that limit, and maintain it against encroachment, is as indispensable to a good condition of human affairs as protection against political despotism.”

 

Really what Mill is arguing in favour of is what we now call a liberal or constitutional democracy. That means a democracy that is subject to the human rights of the individuals. A democratic society cannot do anything it wants to do. There must be reasonable limits on that power and Mill helps us to understand what those limits are.

John Stuart Mill on Liberty

 

I think we can gain a better understanding of the issue of mandates by looking at what English philosopher John Stuart Mill said in the 19th century. In my opinion he has helped to shed light on many important social issues by his careful analysis of liberty.

John Stuart Mill set out well the rationale for allowing individuals to be free (autonomous) to decide for themselves what medical treatments to take or not take.

He asked a preliminary question to set out the issue clearly.  He asked,

“What, then, is the rightful limit to the sovereignty of the individual over himself? Where does the authority of society begin?  How much of human life should be assigned to individuality, and now much to society?”

 

That is precisely the question raised by the mandate issue. Should the individual be allowed to decide for himself or herself whether or not to take the vaccines or can society legitimately make the decision instead? Note that unlike many modern people who deny that the state has the right to impose virtually any restrictions on them, let alone vaccines, Mill recognized that there were restrictions on freedom and he wanted to understand what those limits were.

Mill said, in trying to answer this question, the following:

“Each will receive its proper share, if each has that which more particularly concerns it. To individuality should belong that part of life in which it is chiefly the individual that is interested; to society, the part which chiefly interests society.”

 

If society is of greater interest in the answer to the question then the individual, then it ought to be allowed to make the decision. If the individual is more interested in the question  then he or she should be permitted to decide.

Mill did not say society had no right to get involved in the personal affairs of individuals. For example, Mill said “Human beings owe to each other help to distinguish the better from the worse, and encouragement to choose the former and avoid the latter.” As a pertinent example, in society there is no objection to trying to persuade individuals to take a vaccine if society has evidence that this course of action would be good for the individual and society. Society has the right to do that.  But does it have the right to go further and impose an obligation to take one of the vaccines?  According to Mill,

“But neither one person nor any number of persons, is warranted in saying to another human creature of ripe years, that he shall not do with his life for his own benefit what he chooses to do with it. He is the person most interested in his own well-being; the interest which any other person, except cases of strong personal attachment , can have in it, is trifling, compared with that which he himself has; the interest which society has in him individually (except as to his conduct to others) is fractional, and all together indirect; while with respect to his own feelings and circumstances , the most ordinary man or woman has means of knowledge immeasurably surpassing those that can be possessed by any one else. (emphasis added)”

 

Please note the vitally important qualification which I have highlighted.  Therefore, Mill concludes, with regard to what concerns only himself, society has no right to override the individual’s decisions. Mill said,

“in this department, therefore, of human affairs, Individuality has its proper  field of action…Considerations to aid his judgment, exhortations to strengthen his will, may be offered to him, even obtruded on him, by others: but he himself is the final judge.  All errors which he is likely to commit against advice and warning are outweighed by the evil of allowing others to constrain him to what they deem his good.”

 

On this basis, individuals would be allowed to decide for themselves whether or not to take a Covid-19 vaccine, provided his actions do not affect others.  That then becomes the central question: do they affect others and to what extent?

Back in 1859 when Mill wrote On Liberty, he realized that It would be “a vital question of the future,” what the nature and limits of the power  which can be legitimately exercised by society over the individual.” On that point he was indubitably right as the current debate over the propriety of a vaccine mandate makes clear.

 

 

Absolute or Conditional Freedoms

 

When I attended the recent Steinbach rally against health restrictions and vaccine mandates, there was a lot of talk about freedom. Many of the protesters made it obvious that they think that in a free society they should be allowed to choose whether or not to wear mask or get vaccinated and risk the lives or freedoms of others as they see fit.

I am a freedom loving person. I would hate living in a country like Afghanistan where freedom is now largely absent. I cherish freedom.

I also cherish the right to dissent from authority. We should have the right to choose for ourselves and oppose decisions of the authorities or majorities in a peaceful manner. We should not be slaves to authority. We are free and have the right to be free.

However, dissent to be worthy of the name must be rational. We need to weigh the alternatives, and the evidence in favour of any proposition, and base our conclusions on our own powerful instruments of critical thinking. Irrational dissent (not based on valid reasoning or evidence) amounts to paranoia which can cripple us as much as tyranny can.

The people at the rally in Steinbach claimed to cherish freedom absolutely. Here I disagree. No rights are absolute. Freedom does not mean we have the right to do anything we want to do. Freedoms are always conditional.

Here are a few examples of what I mean.  All of us must abide by speed limits on public roads whether we like them or not. If we don’t, we can justifiably be punished, even in a free and democratic society.  We are not allowed to build a factory or hog barn in a residential district of a small city like Steinbach. We must abide by zoning laws. We are not free to enter into someone else’s home without their consent, except in unusual circumstances. We are not free to do that because they are free to keep us out.  We are not free to dump our garbage into the street, because that violates the right of others to enjoy community life free from garbage of others. We have to pay taxes whether we like it or not, even if the government spends some of our money on goals with which we don’t agree. We are not (at least in Canada) allowed to promulgate hate speech against other groups even if we hate them. We can hate them, but we are not allowed to encourage hatred or violence against them by others. We are not free to shout fire in a crowded dark theatre when there is no fire present, because that might lead to a stampede of panicking patrons that could cause serious injury to others. A person with a communicable illness like HIV/AIDs is not free to have sex with other individuals without warning them of the danger and if we do we can be charged with an assault. We are not free to hit other people just because we don’t like them. We are not allowed to build dangerous structures on which the public have access, because that would endanger their lives. We must always remember and take into consideration the rights of others. Their rights are not absolute either. Sometimes our rights must bend to allow rights of others to work out.

These are all reasonable restrictions on freedoms which we all must accept if we want to live in a free and democratic society with others.

Similarly, and for similar reasons, when Health authorities demand that we wear a mask to protect others, or get vaccinated if we perform certain functions or want to attend certain public events, we must abide by those requirements, because we are not allowed to endanger the lives of others even though such restrictions do in fact restrict our rights to some extent. In a free and democratic society restrictions can be placed on our freedoms for the protection of others. The restrictions must be effective, tailored to the remedy the harm to be avoided, and as limited as possible in the circumstances so that the freedom of others is curtailed as little as necessary to avoid the harm and no more.

Freedom is great, but it is not absolute. We should be happy that it is not absolute. That would be anarchy. None of us would like it.

It Sucks to be a Conservative

 

In Canada and in the United States many people, but nowhere near a majority of the people, are objecting to actions by the government that they see as “over reaching” or imposing duties on them that are not justified in a free and democratic society. Some have gone as far as to call the health restrictions imposed by governments as “authoritarian” or “fascist.” Protesters in Manitoba, particularly in southern Manitoba, a region deeply committed to conservatism, have been making very similar remarks.

As Max Boot reported, in the Washington Post,

“Republicans explode with fury,” noted Fox “News” Channel. Republican governors threatened to file suit to stop what Georgia Republican Gov. Brian Kemp called “this blatantly unlawful overreach.” Fox News accused Biden of being “an authoritarian” and declaring “war on millions of Americans.” Breitbart claims he went “full totalitarian” and the Federalist called it a “fascist move.”

 

Blinded by partisanship and populism, Republicans have lost all perspective. The crux of their argument — to the extent that they have one — is that the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has no right to tell companies with at least 100 employees that workers must either get tested weekly for COVID-19 or present proof of vaccination.

This is the same OSHA that has issued myriad regulations over the years governing such aspects of workplace safety as the placement of step bolts. (“The employer must ensure . . . step bolts are uniformly spaced at a vertical distance of not less than 12 inches (30 cm) and not more than 18 inches (46 cm) apart.”) I have no idea how many workers have been injured by misplaced step bolts — frankly, I’m not even sure what step bolts are — but I am guessing it is not many. I do know, however, how many Americans have been killed by COVID- 19: 655,000 and counting. If OSHA can protect against the menace of step bolts, I’m pretty sure it can protect against the deadliest pandemic in a century.

 

While I generally agree with these important points, I believe the last paragraph goes too far. This is not a perfect analogy. Placing bolts a certain distance apart does not impose a heavier burden on the citizen. Inserting a needle into an arm and injecting a substance that the individual believes will be harmful to him or her against his or her will, is a much more intrusive violation of the rights of the citizen and will require a higher burden of proof on the state to justify. Yet, I think it can be justified.

We know that conservatives in Canada and the US generally object to governments telling businesses what to do. At least they object when their political opponents impose their will. When their own party does it the objections are much less vociferous. For example in the United States, some governments such as the state of Florida have mandated (I use that word deliberately) that businesses are not permitted to demand vaccine passports from their customers. So far, at least 6 state governments led by Republicans, have passed laws prohibiting private businesses from doing exactly that. In Canada, and the United States, governments have in the past required students to demonstrate to school officials that they have taken a host of vaccinations for diseases such as polio, hepatitis, measles, mumps and rubella. They did that of course because those measures helped to prevent serious illnesses and these requirements were imposed without fuss or muss, because the issue of vaccinations at the time were not controversial. Nearly everyone saw the wisdom of such measures. The reason of course, is that vaccines were not political issues as they have become recently. President Trump played down the significance of the pandemic and told people it would just magically go away and they had nothing to fear. As Boot said, “His cult followers therefore felt compelled to echo his Panglossian outlook by falsely claiming that COVID-19 was no worse than the flu or promoting quack remedies such as hydroxychloroquine or ivermectin as miracle cures.”

As a result of identity politics, where people refused to take the vaccine or do take the vaccine, not on the basis of science, or analysis, or data, but on the basis of which political group they identify. As a result, in the US Boot reported that

“According to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey, 86 per cent of Democrats have gotten vaccinated but only 54 per cent of Republicans. That, in turn, translates into rising numbers of cases, hospitalizations and deaths in the red states. Over the past couple of weeks, the United States has been losing an average of 1,579 people a day to COVID-19. More than a third of those deaths (570 a day) are in just two red states: Florida and Texas.”

 

For similar reasons, Florida led by Republicans, where more than 3 times as many people per capita have been dying from Covid-19 than California which is led by Democrats. The rate of death in Florida is 10 times higher than New York which is led by Democrats. In fact, recently, where the US was suffering 1,579 deaths per day from Covid-19 and more than 1/3rd of them were in just two conservative led states, namely Texas and Florida. It sucks to be a conservative in the US!

As Boot said,

“Republican governors don’t seem to mind killing their constituents in the name of a twisted theory of “medical freedom,” but that doesn’t mean the president of the United States is helpless to protect the life and wellbeing of its citizens. In fact, as Washington Post contributing columnist Leana S. Wen argues, Biden still has not gone far enough — for example, he still needs to mandate proof of vaccination for airline and train passengers.

 But at least Biden has given up the hope that he could reason with COVID-deniers and anti-vaxxers. The Republican reaction to his sensible mandate shows that much of the right is beyond the reach of reason. It is now time to use federal power to protect the most basic of civil rights: the right to life.”

 

Although not every one will agree, I must say that I do agree.

 

Difficult Cases make Bad Law and Bad Rules

 

Even with all the facts and good principles, there  usually are some difficult cases in many ethical disputes. There always are difficult cases in ethical disputes. What should be done about people who can’t be vaccinated for good reasons? For example, I understand pregnant women are being advised not to take the vaccines until enough scientific evidence is obtained that confirms it is safe for their fetus. Recently I heard that advice is being moderated by some doctors.

What should be done about people who have underlying medical conditions that make it unwise or unhealthy for them to take vaccines? Perhaps such people might have to wait until enough other people have taken the vaccines that herd immunity has been established. That is unfortunate for them, but is it  not a reasonable restriction to keep them isolated until it is safe for them to do so? Is it too much to ask them to remain at home and if they venture out social distance from others? Perhaps reasonable accommodation can be arranged for such people. If they venture out unprotected, they don’t harm only themselves. They endanger us all and our medial system as well. People should be allowed to do as they please (at least more than now) after they achieve anti-bodies or vaccines. Until it is established that they can’t transmit the virus we have the right to demand they follow health restrictions.

Freedom is an important good, but it is not  an absolute one.

 

Good Facts Make Good Ethics

 

When it comes to Covid-19 the facts are not clear nor free from controversy. It would be nice if we could delay having to make  decisions until all the fact are known, but in a pandemic we don’t have that luxury. Some things must be decided now, on the basis of the best facts available.

We must also admit that the “facts” are constantly changing. Covid-19 is a novel disease. It was unknown to science until a little more than a year ago. When it first became known, the scientists had to give advice based on minimal knowledge. Most of it was on conjecture based on other similar diseases such as SARS and the common flu among others. Now they have a lot more knowledge, but it is still mainly preliminary knowledge. So we don’t really have good facts. And good facts are needed to arrive at good ethics.

Some people were annoyed when scientists at first said, masks were not recommended because they were unlikely to prevent disease spread. They based that on the basis of things they had learned from earlier similar infectious diseases. Later scientific evidence accumulated that the scientists were wrong in their earlier prediction and they quickly changed their advice. As a result some governments made masks mandatory in some situations. Scientists did what they should do. They changed their scientific advice based on better science and more facts. To have done otherwise would have been malfeasance. Only religious leaders can be expected to give infallible advice forever!

In applying the principle of John Stuart Mill I enunciated yesterday, we must acknowledge that imposing restrictions on people as the authorities have done during this pandemic  is a severe curtailment of freedoms people are ordinarily free to exercise. It even amounts to an interference with religious rights guaranteed by our Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  Is such a restriction justified?

First, an infringement on a fundamental freedom is not justified if there is a better way. The impairment of the right must be the most minimal impairment needed to prevent the harm. If I am not at risk of likely spreading the dangerous Coronavirus  the people or the government, they elect are not justified in restricting my freedom of movement. The default position is liberty. I am free to do what I want unless the government proves that my actions will likely create an unreasonable risk of serious harm to others. The onus of proof must be on the government. The government does not have to prove this beyond a reasonable doubt. It is sufficient if it can establish, on a balance of probabilities, that my actions will likely lead to serious harm.

The harm avoided by imposition of restrictions cannot be a trivial one either. The avoidance of trivial harms to not justify interference with fundamental freedoms. For example, such restrictions would not be justified to avoid the common flu. The government must also establish that reasonable alternatives, which would have less effect on my fundamental freedoms are not available. In other words, it must prove that curtailment of my freedom does not exceed the most minimal curtailment that would be sufficient to avoid the harm. If the restrictions are not necessary to achieve the public good, such as freedom from a serious disease, then the governmental restrictions are not justified.

The imposed harm by the government  (e.g compulsory vaccinations) must also be effect at avoiding the harm it is trying to avert (e.g. serious illness). If they are not effective the infringement of freedom is not justified.

Using these principles how do they related to the facts on the ground? First are the vaccines effective at reducing risk of serious harm? There is growing evidence that the vaccines (all of them) are very effective at reducing the risk of serious illness. They are not as effective at stopping minor illness, but we can live with that. We want to avoid the serious illness and death.

To begin with, one must also weigh the harm inflicted on the people who would have chosen not to get vaccinated. The large weight of scientific evidence is that most harms resulting from the vaccination are extremely minor if not non-existent. No more reasonable harm that impairs our freedom less than compulsory vaccinations has been discovered.

Secondly, recent studies have shown that all the vaccines approved so far are about 95% effective at preventing serious illness. Most people who took the vaccines did not become seriously ill and did not die. Even if 1 person in 20 dies after the vaccination, or gets seriously ill any way, the benefits to the majority greatly outweigh the detriments to the minority who would have chosen not to be vaccinated had they been free to do so.

Currently scientific evidence is still in a state of flux as more information becomes available. For example, there have been new variants of the virus that have resulted from mutations. These appear to be more contagious and, in some cases, also more severe. As a result, dealing with this virus demands even more diligence. Some people get annoyed by this. They call it flip flopping. This unfair. This is how science, unlike theology, works.

I will continue this analysis in tomorrow’s blog.

 

An Ethical Approach to Vaccine Passports

 

Would it be fair to opening up society in a time of pandemic only to those with Passports (or other documents) that could satisfy us that allowing people who have had one of the vaccines for Covid-19 or had the “benefit” of having contracted the disease and developed sufficient antibodies? In either case, presumably it is safe to let these people wander around, more of less freely, while we continue to curtail the freedoms of those who don’t have such a passport.

First, it is clear, that current health restrictions in Canada are fundamentally restrictive and a substantial interference with our freedom of movement and freedom to gather as we see fit. Clearly this violates a constitutional right, as I have argued in an earlier blog post. Ordinarily such prohibitions could not be justified in a free and democratic society. But these are special circumstances? Are they special enough to provide the justification?

I think a good place to start my answer to this very interesting question is the classic book On Liberty, by John Stuart Mill. Mill recognized in 1859 that people had the right to fear “the tyranny of the majority” which, he said, “is now generally included among the evils against which society requires to be on its guard.” In other words, Mill argued there are limits on what a majority is entitled to do. As he said,

“There is a limit to the legitimate interference of collective opinion with individual independence: and to find that limit, and maintain it against encroachment, is as indispensable to a good condition of human affairs, as protection against political despotism.”

To Mill as to many lovers of freedom, all that makes life valuable requires there to be reasonable limits or restraints on the actions of other people, either directly or through their elected representatives. Mills posed a clear answer to what he considered those reasonable limits. Mill said that there was one very simple principle that provided an answer to what are the reasonable limits. He elegantly put it this way:

“…the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forebear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because in the opinion of others, to do so would be wise, or even right. These are good reasons for remonstrating with him, or reasoning with him, or persuading him, or entreating him, but not for compelling him, or visiting upon him any evil in case he do otherwise. To justify that, the conduct from which it is desirable to deter him must be calculated to produce evil to some one else. The only part of the conduct of any one for which he is amenable is to society is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.”

This is the fundamental principle of classic  liberalism. The principle is often called the principle of autonomy. In simplified terms, this means that everyone should be free to do whatever he or she wants, without hindrance, unless the exercise of that freedom will harm others.

With some limitations, not relevant to this discussion I accept that principle. How is to be applied to the question at hand. To do that we must look at the facts, as best we can, for as Professor Schafer said, good facts produce good ethics.

In my next blog posting I shall show how this principle applies to the Covid-19 Passport.