(Common Sense) On August 13, 2021, the Canadian government announced that anyone who hadn’t been vaccinated against Covid would soon be barred from planes and trains. In many cases, The Backward could no longer travel between provinces or leave the country. If you lived in Winnipeg and wanted to visit your mother on her deathbed in London or Hong Kong or, perhaps, Quebec City, you’d better get jabbed—or resign yourself to never seeing your mother again.
Jennifer Little, the director-general of COVID Recovery, the secretive government panel that crafted the mandate, called it “one of the strongest vaccination mandates for travelers in the world.”
It was draconian and sweeping, and it fit neatly with the public persona that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had cultivated—that of the sleek, progressive, forward-looking technocrat guided by fact and reason. The Canadian Medical Association Journal, in a June 2022 article, observed that “Canada had among the most sustained stringent policies regarding restrictions on internal movement.”
But recently released court documents—which capture the decision-making behind the travel mandate—indicate that, far from following the science, the prime minister and his Cabinet were focused on politics. (Canadians are hardly alone. As Common Sense recently reported, American public-health agencies have also been politicized.)
Two days after announcing the mandate, Trudeau called a snap election—presumably expecting that his Liberal Party, which was in the minority in the House of Commons, would benefit from the announcement and be catapulted into the majority. As it turned out, the Liberals failed to win a majority in the September 2021 election. In the meantime, roughly five million unvaccinated Canadians were barred from visiting loved ones, working or otherwise traveling. (Trudeau, for his part, stayed in power. Even though the Conservatives have won the popular vote in the past two elections, because of Canada’s parliamentary system, they have been denied the top job.)
The court documents are part of a lawsuit filed by two Canadian residents against the government. Until last month, they were under seal.
Both plaintiffs are business owners. Both have family in Britain. Both have refused the vaccine on the grounds of bodily autonomy. Both were reluctant to identify their businesses out of fear of losing customers.
One plaintiff is Karl Harrison. In his affidavit, Harrison, 58, said that he and his partner, Emma, had immigrated in 2009 from Britain to Canada. (He became a Canadian citizen in 2015.) They have two children, a 24-year-old son and a 14-year-old daughter, and they live in a tony neighborhood in Vancouver. He’d always been an entrepreneur. “I was involved in establishing, owning and co-owning over 40 venues of one sort or the other—restaurants, bars, music venues and comedy clubs,” he told me. “One music venue is fairly well known, called The Bedford. Ed Sheeran got his start there.”
Since 2000, Harrison had been involved in the travel industry. “We have a company in the U.K., Ireland, Spain, and we’re the largest retailer of packages for Disneyland Paris,” he said.
He also has an 88-year-old mother in Britain, and he was furious that, for months, he couldn’t visit her. “When you’ve got oppressive government behavior,” he told me, “you’re only left with only three choices: accept it, fight it or leave. I can’t accept it. I moved my family here, and I would be letting them down if we moved away—so I’m in fight mode.”
The other plaintiff is Shaun Rickard, whose father, also in Britain, is suffering from late-stage Alzheimer’s. Rickard, 55, lives in the town of Pickering, outside Toronto, and he owns a small exterior-siding and eaves-contracting business. He portrayed himself as something of an activist. “I guess I’m the Lone Ranger,” he told me. “When I see something wrong, evil, corrupt happen, I feel I have to speak up.”
He was surprised when Trudeau announced the travel mandate. “I said to myself, ‘Holy fuck, how can this be happening here?’” He added that the only way to stop it would be “through revolution, which is never going to happen in Canada, or through the courts, and the latter is what we did.”
So, in the fall of 2021, Rickard launched a GoFundMe to do battle with his government. In November, Harrison, who had learned of Rickard on social media, reached out to him. In December, they jointly filed suit.
Rickard said that, so far, the lawsuit had cost the two plaintiffs about $186,000—of which, Rickard had raised $121,000 on GoFundMe. (In February of this year, when the Canadian government invoked the Emergencies Act in response to the truckers protesting a separate vaccine mandate in Ottawa, GoFundMe forced Rickard, like those raising money for the truckers, off the site.)
Rickard and Harrison’s attorney, Sam Presvelos, said that all government decisions related to public health demanded transparency. “Civil servants shouldn’t hide behind a shroud of secrecy,” Presvelos told me.
The whole point of the case was to lift that shroud and cast a spotlight on the unscientific basis of the mandate.
Among other things, the court documents indicate: