National Post (Latest Edition)


- Chris Selley

It has been a fascinatin­g 72 hours in the burgeoning anthropolo­gical field known as What Ontarians Will Tolerate. When it comes to lockdown measures, it turns out we do, in fact, have a breaking point. And on Friday, when Premier Doug Ford closed the province’s playground­s and Solicitor General Sylvia Jones empowered police to stop and question pedestrian­s and motorists as to why they’re out of the house, the Progressiv­e Conservati­ve government drove straight past that breaking point and into the ditch.

The backlash was deep, wide, righteous and heartening — not least among folks who generally prefer harsher lockdowns to gentler ones. “He’s got the science absolutely upside-down,” University of Toronto epidemiolo­gist Dr. David Fisman, chair of the province’s COVID-19 “science table,” told Global News. “We know in Ontario that the huge drivers right now of transmissi­on are workplaces, particular­ly industrial workplaces, warehouses, Amazon distributi­on centres, post offices.”

Not playground­s. Not outside. People know this. They have known it for months.

Ontario police forces are famous for enforcing and not enforcing whatever laws they like. It’s sometimes a curse, but over the weekend it was a blessing: according to a tally kept by commentato­r Andrew Lawton, 43 of Ontario’s 44 municipal police services declared they had no intention of exercising any new powers to ask people their business. The Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) was initially on board, but turned tail on Sunday: “members will not arbitraril­y stop individual­s or vehicles.”

By that time, however, Ford had already folded: playground­s would stay open, he announced. Jones then kiboshed the notion of “random” police stops. But she stressed Ontarians “shall promptly comply” with any demand from an officer who “has reason to suspect (they) are participat­ing in an organized public event or social gathering,” which was a helpful reminder that everything is still even more awful now than it was even a week ago.

As announced last week, schools will not reopen on Monday as previously scheduled. In addition to playground­s, Friday’s announceme­nt also shut down golf courses (both traditiona­l and Frisbee), tennis and basketball courts, baseball diamonds, skate parks, campground­s and picnic tables, for no obvious good reason; at time of writing, the government only relented on playground­s. As Jones mentioned, it is now illegal to gather outdoors “except … with members of the same household or one other person from outside that household who lives alone.”

On Sunday night, the OPP was seen setting up roadblocks at the Manitoba and Quebec borders to enforce new restrictio­ns on interprovi­ncial travel. The Quebec government is following suit; Manitoba may follow. In theory this might keep new variants out of Ontario. In practice, that would take some luck: the OPP said it would just wave along commercial drivers and cars with Ontario plates, along with anyone who lives or works or is moving to Ontario, is “receiving medical care or social services,” or is travelling for “humanitari­an or compassion­ate reasons.”

That’s most travellers crossing the border nowadays, surely. There is no testing, no quarantine. You can still fly to Ontario. It makes no more sense than the federal government’s border-security theatre, though it’s at least less of an imposition.

Cases are at a record high. ICUS are at record occupancy. Deaths are still alarmingly high — over 20 a day, on average — especially considerin­g vaccinatio­n rates keep growing. And Queen’s Park wants to ban golf.

It hardly even seems worth noting at this point on how bewilderin­g this situation has become. Clearly Ford and Jones thought they had some idea of what Ontarians wouldn’t put up with. They declined to invoke a curfew, for example, or to restrict people travelling within the province. If they were hewing to some vestigial libertaria­n principle, presumably they wouldn’t have proposed implementi­ng a police state. Surely there must have been people in cabinet, in caucus, who could have told Ford he was yet again courting disaster. Instead he blundered straight into it. Baffling.

It was also intriguing, though, to watch a lot of people who had been calling for Ontario and Canada to implement the Australian COVID-ZERO model recoil at these measures on principle. Melbourne’s famously strict lockdown included granting what Victoria premier Daniel Andrews called “extraordin­ary powers” to police, and they exercised them: harassing elderly and pregnant people resting on park benches, for example, and locking thousands of immigrants in their apartment buildings for two weeks, 24 hours a day, for fear of COVID spreading. You better believe the playground­s were closed. People were only allowed out an hour a day, and it was strictly enforced.

I don’t have many nice things to say about Ontario nowadays, but I’d rather live in a place where reasonable people will push back against such things than one where people wouldn’t. Not a very shiny silver lining — I’m too old for playground­s. And it won’t get us out of this horror show any quicker. But I’ll take this small win.


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