Be wary of overkill in Ebola fight

By Patrick Hunter Wednesday October 29 2014 in Opinion
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Two very tragic events happened in this country this week that caught everyone by surprise. Because they were wearing their uniforms, two soldiers were attacked and killed for no other reason, it appears, than they were members of the Canadian military.


To the families of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo and Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, my deepest condolences on your senseless loss.


In Vincent’s case, a car ran him down. In Cirillo’s case he was shot while performing the ceremonial guard duty at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Both deaths made no sense.


The apparent killers have been described as “radicalized” Muslims, Canadians who had converted to Islam. Also emerging into the lexicon is the “lone wolf” operative – the seemingly growing occurrences of attacks by individuals who are being identified with the ISIS group.


Just a couple of weeks ago, I cautioned against an over-reaction that would lead to discriminatory activities against Muslims and Africans due to the Ebola outbreak. Whether as a direct reaction to Cpl. Cirillo’s killing or just the kind of undercurrent of racism that exists, we saw some horrible demonstrations of it against Munira Abukar, one of the candidates for councillor in Ward 2. Things were thrown at her, her signs were defaced and some of her campaigners were verbally abused. It might very well be both, with the exhibition triggered.


This is not the first time we have seen this kind of reaction. After September 11, 2001, there were similar activities. These idiots even went so far as to set fire to a Hindu temple in Hamilton believing it to be a mosque.


That is one kind of reaction. Another is what the government of the day chooses to do. The day after the shooting of Cpl. Cirillo and the attempt on the House of Commons, there was a quite show of solidarity among the politicians with Prime Minister Harper going over to embrace the Leader of the Opposition, Tom Mulcair and Liberal leader, Justin Trudeau. And there were pledges of the “we-shall-not-be-moved” type. All this is good.


What comes next? Already the government is moving to introduce amendments to the CSIS Act that would increase the powers of the agency to expand its surveillance abilities.


We also know that there is talk of having the ability to, at least, take away the passport of those they suspect may be going abroad with the aim of eventually committing terrorist acts.


When governments introduce legislation and policies that impact the civil rights of individuals, for whatever reason, I am troubled. I am troubled because these things have a way of getting out of hand. There could be cases of good intentions going awry. Sometimes it may be, and often is, some agents taking an interpretation of the law to the extreme.


The other situation that bears watching is the Ebola crisis. The United States has taken the action of restricting arrivals from some of the West African countries affected to a few airports. Okay, that may not be so bad. It allows a greater focus for resources. But, the governors of New York and New Jersey have just introduced a policy of quarantining arrivals from those areas for the 21-day period to ensure that they are Ebola-free. That is drastic. It has the effect of punishing those who have undertaken to go to those countries to provide assistance – almost like a jail sentence.


Already, many airlines have suspended operations to those countries in West Africa. This is a move that puts a significant impediment in providing assistance and supplies to the region and many medical and healthcare personnel are protesting the move.


So far, many of these instruments have not been employed in Canada. There are no direct flights from Canada to affected areas in West Africa. Screening has been implemented at ports of call and preparation is ongoing in preparing centres for care should someone exhibit the symptoms. Suspected cases, so far, have proved to be negative. One, however, has to wonder how hard the panic button will be hit should there be a positive case in Canada.


As I noted in my previous column on this subject, the unintended consequences of too strong prevention can be discriminatory. We saw elements of this during and after the SARS crisis of a few years ago in which the Chinese Canadian population experienced a rise in racist behaviour. While the governments were not necessarily insinuating anti-Chinese sentiments, the actions they took could have sent a very wrong signal.


These are situations that bear monitoring. We know that racism exists. We don’t need added reasons to encourage racial discrimination. /Twitter: @pghntr

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