Last September of last year I chose to sit as an Independent because the governing party was taking decisions that I believe were divisive and detrimental to the citizens of Saskatchewan. In fact, Premier Scott Moe on September 16th, 2021 announced to the public that “The time for patience is over”, citing unvaccinated people as the reason why the Covid -19 virus continued in Saskatchewan, thus demonizing people who believe in the right to body autonomy, or had other reasons not to ‘take the jab’.
In that announcement, Premier Moe declared the government would ‘create consequences’ and make it ‘less comfortable’ for people to remain unvaccinated. True to his word, his government did this by restricting what activities vaccine-free people could participate in, including whether they could keep their jobs. The medical system began denying health procedures to people unless they complied. He even introduced vaccine passports after he and Dr. Shahab stated earlier in the summer that this would not happen.
Premier Moe did not seem to care that there were thousands of people who had legitimate health considerations or that taking the vaccine would violate their conscience. He knew, or should have known, that doctors were almost never giving out exemptions, arguably in fear of being sanctioned by their governing bodies. There was virtually no discussion about adverse health effects, which by that time, many people were reporting anecdotally and trying to officially report. Later on, based on the number of people who contacted my office, it has become clear to me that doctors also seem to fear sanctions for reporting adverse effects.
Laying blame at the feet of vaccine-free people was picked up quickly by the media, then made it’s rounds on social media. Employers and unions jumped on board, imposing new employment conditions on highly qualified long-term employees with the threat of job-loss for non-compliance. Suddenly, being unvaccinated for any reason made a person a pariah of society. An uncaring, selfish usurper of tax-paid health services. (Shall we go down the road of health care availability for those who smoke, use illegal substances, over-eat, have poor diets, over-drink alcohol, are sedentary or participate in extreme sports?)
A few weeks later, it seemed the Premier began to understand just how much his approach had divided the people of this province. Lifelong friends, family members, co-workers and acquaintances were now deciding who they would associate with by vaccination status. Christmas for some meant being shunned. In early December of 2021, the premier seemed to soften his approach when he tried to call for “an end to the stigmatization of those who remain unvaccinated.”
Unfortunately, the damage had been done, and the call to ‘unstigmatize’ was not supported with any action to reduce the societal impact. We still have vaccine passports. People did not get their jobs back. People are still not allowed into certain private and public places unless they can show they are among ‘the approved’ by revealing their vaccine status.
The great irony now is that we have abundant proof that the vaccinated can still easily spread the virus. Just ask the thousands of completely vaccinated guests and staff on 86 cruise ships that have had outbreaks. Or ask the completely vaccinated players, coaches, staff and volunteers of the 2022 World Junior’s whose tournament was cancelled due to Covid outbreaks.
In spite of this, the policies which created the damage and stigmatization continue. As well, there is a hangover effect that in our digital age, permeates our culture.
Case in point. A video released Nov 25, 2021 by the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA), has Medical Health Officer Dr. Tania Diener counselling a young girl from Regina who askes, “What if my friends don’t get the vaccine? Can I still play with them?” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=foSE8dZHayM
Dr. Diener’s response creates the same stigmatization among our children that the Premier created in September. Dr. Diener does not ever tell the girl she can play with the unvaccinated. Instead, she coaches the girl to put pressure on her friends. It’s easy to figure out how this will play out in a classroom setting with the vaccinated children shunning the so-called unvaccinated.
If the Premier is serious about healing our province, perhaps he can ask the SHA to take down that video and review it’s messaging to make sure it isn’t divisive to children or adults. Then he could remove the vaccine passport system. He could give people in the public service their jobs back regardless of vaccine status and encourage private employers to do the same. He could encourage all of us to continue with good health practices individually, and to practice safe hygiene publicly.
These things are the least that he could do.