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Ottawa reacts

For the protests that have paralysed Ottawa, and now threaten to engulf the US and parts of Europe, are also a reaction to what many see as coercive measures by governments to enforce the use of vaccines in the battle against Covid-19, and more generally the restrictions on movement that have become a global norm. 

Statesman News Service | Kolkata |

Many in India will enjoy a quiet chuckle at the discomfiture of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who has been forced to invoke emergency powers after his government failed to stop truckers blockading the capital, Ottawa, to protest the country’s vaccine mandates.

Mr Trudeau had in December 2020 invited a sharp rebuke from New Delhi for having waded in, doubtless at the behest of the significant Canadian Sikh population, into the farmers’ protests in India. He had expressed his government’s support for “peaceful protests” and assured the farmers that Canada was behind them. New Delhi had reacted sharply, terming his comments illinformed, unwarranted and an intrusion in the domestic affairs of the country.

Today, as Mr Trudeau is forced to take harsh measures to quell protests that have remained peaceful but have severely constricted movement in Canada’s capital and on its border, many Indians will enjoy watching him squirm. But the issue goes beyond Indian perspectives, for it targets several of the presumptions that have guided public health policy across the world.

It is easy to dub the protests as a right-wing reaction to measures that seek to restrict entry into Canada of unvaccinated truckers, not the least because it has received support from such groups across Canada, the United States and Europe, with former American President Donald Trump having endorsed the truckers. For the protests that have paralysed Ottawa, and now threaten to engulf the US and parts of Europe, are also a reaction to what many see as coercive measures by governments to enforce the use of vaccines in the battle against Covid-19, and more generally the restrictions on movement that have become a global norm.

It is an undeniable fact that there are many in the world who are opposed to the use of all vaccines, not just those that target Covid-19. According to some reports, nearly one-third of American parents oppose vaccination for their children. The anti-vaccine movement began in the US in the 18th century, with religious leaders dubbing vaccines as the devil’s work. In the 19th and 20th centuries, those opposed to vaccines argued it was a violation of human rights to coerce an individual to get vaccinated.

A recent report in Lancet Digital Health estimates that as many 31 million people around the world follow anti-vaccine groups on social media. The movement had gained traction in 1998 after a doctor ~ since discredited ~ published research in Lancet suggesting a link between MMR vaccination and autism in children. While the World Health Organisation has often debunked arguments against vaccinations, antivaxxers persist with their beliefs.

The other issue highlighted by protests in the West is that resentment at restrictions on movement and social interaction in the wake of Covid afflictions may have bubbled over. Clearly, many have reached the end of their tether and are taking to the streets; they pose a significant threat to public order