The Problem with Wearing a Mask

I’m not anti-mask. I wear my mask indoors in public spaces as we have been asked to and now mandated to. I do have a problem with it, however. 

I don’t doubt for a moment that wearing a mask is in everyone’s best interest in the name of public health and safety. And sure, I understand the science behind it and know that the mask isn’t preventing you from catching anything, it just helps restrict your breath from spreading so quickly. And so I have to admit laughing at, or shaking my head at, the people I see wearing masks alone in cars, or out walking by themselves. But I must reiterate – I do believe it is in everyone’s best interest. And the biggest benefits for wearing a mask are that it calms everyone; people can see and feel a tangible defence against an invisible foe; and it shows that we are all in it together. 

My problem with it, is the mandating of the mask. We are so lucky in BC to have had leaders who refused to make it law until things really turned bad here in December and late November. I will always respect them for holding off. Of course, I wouldn’t be writing this, nor would it have become law if everyone just agreed it was a good idea and started wearing masks. (Thanks, jerks.) In contrast, many people were angry that it wasn’t mandated, asking “Why not make it illegal not to wear a mask?” And this is my response:

Dr. Bonnie Henry and Premier John Horgan

It is not lost on me for a moment, that in the months leading up to the Pandemic, parts of Canada were making it illegal to wear a mask in public. Yes, you heard me right. In Quebec there was a move to ban face coverings that were associated with Islam. Some politicians tried to cover-up the blatant racism by extending the motion to ban all religious symbols and face coverings. What a terrible concept for a country that used to take pride in its religious freedom and freedom of expression and how terrible that we’ve become so weak. There is absolutely no doubt that the motion to ban face coverings was because people were uneasy with niqabs or other muslim face coverings. We lost the “war on terror” when we became afraid of each other.

Here’s the connection to now. In order for this motion to have any legal backing they had to make it a matter of public health and safety. Sound familiar? So one month we’re banning face coverings as a matter of “public health and safety,” and the next we’re making masks mandatory for “public health and safety.” It’s a slippery-slope when we confuse ourselves. Too bad it’s so easy.

In Montreal hospitals, suspected COVID-19 patients visiting the emergency room are provided a face mask upon arrival and asked to leave it on while in a room with anyone else present or while interacting with staff. By contrast, a woman wearing a niqab entering the same emergency room would be forced by law to remove it before she is able to access health-care services. <source>

Again, I’m not against it being essential that we wear masks. If there is ever a time to do it, it is during a global pandemic with lethal consequences. So why did some leaders hesitate?

Think about the power of democracy, or the strength of a population if the government doesn’t have to pass that law, but everyone simple obeys the suggestion. Think about what that says about the people and their government. What it tells me is that the government recognizes power can be mishandled and a broad-stroke, mandated social change, can be needed at one point, but can be a dangerous weapon against the people at another time. It is not a good practice for Governments to mandate social activities. Only in dire moments should a government get that involved in our personal lives. By December in BC, it is one of those dire times. 

Also, consider the political power of not making it mandatory: When a politician suggests masks be worn, most people will, and there will be some who don’t. But, because it isn’t law people will police themselves. We saw it – it was ugly – but people called each other out, others pleaded for people to wear masks. It was politically safe. As soon as it becomes a law, it has to be enforced. Many people will oblige, but again, some will not. Now, the idiots get labeled as criminals, even though when this is done they go back to being your friends and neighbours (luckily not mine.) It, once again, is a slippery slope. In the grand scheme of things, the small minority of people who refuse to wear a mask are not contributing much to the spread. Typically they are avoided, and when they aren’t…at least you have a mask on, right? So we run the risk of alienating and disenfranchising a group of people even though the social peer pressure before, was enough to encourage mask use. (I guarantee the passing of the law only changed the minds of the smallest fraction of anti-maskers.)

“You need to have a good argument for infringing on individual rights for the sake of a collective right.”

Horacio Arruda, Quebec Public Health Director

Consider this. A little ways back the sphere of influence for governments (in the Western World) were limited to economic issues. The Church’s sphere of influence was social. Marriage laws, even domestic violence were once not matters for government nor local police. When we separated ties with the Church, only government could fill the void. For the most part it has worked out well, but consider the mess and slow time it took to react to same-sex marriages. The Church cared, but do we? Hell no. You can Marry whoever you want! But should a government really have a say in that at all? To many, making it a “law” gave it the validation it needed, but they only sought that validation because we’ve already become conditioned to the Government making rules for our every day lives. Really, it has no effect on how you run a country. And if you think running a country includes enforcing cultural norms, then you are forgetting that that was also the role of the Church.

Generally, as a society, we like rules. We want to be told what to do. And few people consider how awkward it is having a government have to make social decisions. Honestly, there are more important things for them to be doing. So who is it that is supposed to make these heavy-handed suggestions that we feel we need to follow? This is why I will forever respect our Provincial and Federal Leaders who had to deal with this Pandemic. “Please wear a mask” is about as aggressive as they got up until November. 

In Quebec, banning face coverings is a dark stain on our country. It is born out of a phantom fear of Islam and Muslims. We’ve never been under attack and we have lived with Muslims since the beginning of our country (and probably before.) Even that kid that shot up Parliament was just a disgruntled kid. And disgruntled kids take on symbols and personas identified with fear or social fringes. He picked up Islam because people feared it. Rewind to the late 90’s and two disgruntled kids shoot up a high school in Colorado. Their persona: trench coat mafia. Some weird sub culture born (I think) out of “Blade” or other vampire movies that glorified an underworld of people apart from the norm. Regardless, they are the same. Just kids on the fringe, socially disenfranchised and violently lashing-out.

You can see it in movies too. When I was a kid “terrorists” were tall, blond haired soviets. Then they were red-haired IRA members. Now, you’ll seldom see the term terrorist when it isn’t associated with Islam. 

So, if we let a government mandate a social change out of the phantom fear of a pretend enemy, then we leave ourselves open to having greater or more damaging interference. 

Again, this is a Pandemic, it’s a good time to mandate masks. But not a single citizen should be unaware that we get to choose the limitations of government in our lives. And going forward, should this open a can-of-worms, we better be in a place to pull back a little and remind ourselves that we have and must maintain the power to make social decisions on our own. 

Until then. Wear a mask, you idiot!

“The circumstances surrounding the pandemic highlight the truth of what Bill 21 is really about: the suppression of religious freedom dressed up as secularism and public security.” Toronto Star

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