Alberta Premier Jason Kenney recently posted on social media his reaction to protests on the steps of the legislature and GraceLife Church just west of Edmonton.
Hundreds gathered at the legislature in Edmonton on April 12, including many other parts of the province.
Those who know Kenney would recognize his style and tone in the post. The post starts by referring to a racial slur and the damage caused to a vehicle on the First Nations reserve adjacent to GraceLife Church.
At the legislature, the protesters chanted “lock her up,” referring to Alberta chief medical officer of health Deena Hinshaw, who has been the most visible face connected to the health restrictions the government has implemented.
Kenney also complained: “They also chanted ‘just say no’ to vaccines.” By implication, his post scorns the protesting Alberta citizens as racists, vandals, threatening thugs and anti-vaxxers.
If that was not enough to delegitimize those with opposing views, Kenney expressed a most regrettable ad hominem attack: It is “increasingly clear,” his statement read, “that many involved … are unhinged conspiracy theorists.”
We need to re-emphasize that these are Albertans expressing their frustrations with the COVID-19 restrictions Kenney has put into place. It’s base hyperbole to charge protesters with making felony threats to a public official.
Similarly, our culture makes fun of people who oppose vaccines, some of whom may be a little kooky. But it’s not yet unlawful to oppose vaccines and vaccination. Many of those opposing vaccination do so as a matter of conscience.
A wise statesman doesn’t diminish the moral choices of the people he serves. The wise also know insult isn’t a way to attract or retain votes. In September 2016, then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton denigrated opposing voters as “a basket of deplorables.” She later admitted this was one of the factors that cost her the election to Donald Trump.
One might forgive the premier for reacting to the personal nature of the chants, which also called on him to be locked up. But let’s recall his policies confined Albertans for months, and police recently arrested GraceLife minister James Coates for defying public health orders.
The protests may sting the more because among the group were one-time supporters, political allies and even friends of Kenney. But statesmen don’t personalize the process; their duty is to safeguard the dignity of their office, for all of us and in the name of the monarch.
If personal dimension excused heated reactions, we ought to consider the consequences of government actions that have led protesters to Kenney’s doorstep. The provincial COVID-19 slogan would have us believe that the government is protecting “lives and livelihoods.” Those whose livelihoods are being ruined know better and feel insulted by the slogan.
When government claims to be saving lives but in the process ruins the lives of many (pushing them into bankruptcy, unemployment, family abuse and violence, deterioration of mental health, drug abuse and death by overdose, among others), those whose lives are being ruined are legitimately entitled to be frustrated by the offending policy.
Kenney has modestly recognized that his policies are hurting people, but the damaging policies persist and increase. Was he expecting no reaction to the barricading of a church?
One would think that citizens whose lives are being hurt by their own government’s policies would receive sympathy and compassion. But instead, those suffering outside the medical tutelage of Alberta Health are disparaged as “unhinged conspiracy theorists.” That’s why such a smear is unacceptable.
Kenney referred to the vilified protesters’ words as being “beyond the pale,” an expression that has come to mean something is outside acceptable norms. The expression goes back to the imperious Tsarina Catherine the Great of Russia at the end of the 18th century. By official proclamation, the Jewish community was confined to a territory, “the Pale,” which means a fence or palisade. Jews could only travel beyond the Pale with the tyranny’s indulgence.
Given present restrictions, including the persecution of GraceLife and the erection of fencing to prevent worship there, Kenney’s use of the expression is painfully ironic.
Kenney’s uncritical embrace of his medical bureaucrats’ restrictive advice is hurting citizens and forcing otherwise law-abiding Albertans beyond the fences he has erected.
Marco Navarro-Génie is a senior fellow with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy and the president of the Haultain Research Institute. He is co-author, with Barry Cooper, of COVID-19: The Politics of a Pandemic Moral Panic (2020).
Marco is one of our Thought Leaders. For interview requests, click here.
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