Students from a number of BC Catholic schools spent more than half an hour interviewing Dr. Bonnie Henry last week, as can be seen on a YouTube video posted January 20.
The questions were polite, covering topics such as:
* If the majority of the COVID-spreaders are 20 – 30 year olds, should we vaccinate them before the elderly?
* Should eliminating viruses be our country’s top priority?
* is there any way the pandemic will benefit the youth generation moving forward?
One student, Pablo, did ask her a slightly awkward question (at 20:42):
“We would like you to help students understand why we need to close churches across BC to in-person worship, while still allowing other facilities such as restaurants, shops and schools to remain open.”
Dr. Henry responded:
As you know, we’ve been looking at all of the different places where the virus has been spreading. When people come together, this virus can spread. We know it’s transmitted from people; that’s how people get sick. It’s when somebody who doesn’t realize it has a mild illness, or is sick, or has very little symptoms, and goes into a place, particularly an inside place with others.
We know that things like singing together, and when we go to a faith service, or a church service, it’s all about being together. We recognize that it’s very difficult for people to keep their safe distances. So we put some limits on the numbers of people that can come together, to try and prevent it from spreading to large numbers of people.
We had a consistent limit of 50, and we were doing that for many, many months. But in October, November we started to see that this virus was spreading much more quickly, and we’ve had a number of spreads in different faiths, whether it’s churches or temples or synagogues, there have been many outbreaks that have passed from people to people.
I know it’s so hard, but the challenge we have is we know that there are a lot of older people that come to church services, and they’re more at risk of getting very sick with this virus.
We have spoken with many faith leaders, including many of the church leaders, many times over the past year to support people in how we do come together to support each other in our faith during a crisis like this when getting together physically is very dangerous. So this is through that period of time right now where it’s most dangerous.
The things that we have in place in restaurants, for example, where it’s a small group of people that are related to each other, who sit at one table with barriers and masks – that makes it a much different situation than a church service for example. Same with a retail store. It’s a very qualitatively different experience to go and stand in a line and buy some groceries, for example.
So we look at where we’re seeing spread, and what are the least invasive things we can do to prevent people from getting sick. I’ve just been so proud and so grateful for our many faith leaders who have come together to support everybody getting through this, and doing it safely.
Irene asked Dr. Henry, “Thank you for your consistent and kind leadership. How do you find the courage to continue even when people disagree or are critical?”
Dr. Henry responded, in part (at 27:44):
Making these decisions is very hard. Yes, people don’t agree with them. Some people think we’re doing too much, other people think we’re not doing enough. We’re trying to balance everything, with people’s health.
The things that I have learned are that the words we use to support each other and get through this are very important, and that’s what keeps us grounded. I look to young people, I look to the elders in my life who support me – who may not agree with everything I say – but recognize that we’re trying to make the best decisions we can in a really challenging and difficult time.
Reine Sader Mykyte, principal of École Saint-Sacrement in Vancouver, concluded with a “gift of prayer” for Dr. Henry and her work.
Pointed critiques continue
While Dr. Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix have been gracious towards the faith community at every turn, what they haven’t done is respond to calls – from credible and supportive critics such as UBC law professor Brian Bird and the BC Civil Liberties Association – to explain in depth their rationale in light of Charter rights or to allow a return to in-person worship.
Here are several recent articles which focus on resistance to provincial health restrictions:
* Pandemic tests limits of religious freedom as churches set to fight BC’s COVID-19 rules in court
Jason Proctor wrote this story for CBC News (January 24), with the subhead ‘Group of churches claims public health measures unfairly target religious gatherings’:
[I]nterpretations of the Bible and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms can cut both ways when it comes to Dr. Bonnie Henry’s public health orders. And the coming months will see the B.C. courts probe the legality of the rules while churchgoers try to divine God’s will.
Marty Moore is a lawyer with the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, the Calgary-based organization representing several churches in a B.C. Supreme Court petition seeking to overturn the order against in-person worship.
He stresses that the legal arguments involved have nothing to do with the particular beliefs of the individuals and churches seeking a judicial review.
Freedom of expression and freedom of religion are enshrined in Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. And Moore argues that by allowing restaurants and businesses to remain open while shutting churches, B.C. has gone too far.
Go here for the full article.
* Are churches a health hazard or essential service? A tale of two BC cities
This Vancouver Sun story (January 22) compares the responses of Langley township and Vernon to the question of whether churches should lose their tax exemption if they fail to comply with COVID-19 restrictions.
David Hunt, BC director for the think tank Cardus, said:
Should churches that fail to comply with COVID restrictions lose their tax exemption? All but one councillor in the Township of Langley seem to think so.
Or are places of worship an essential service? This is what all but the mayor and one councillor in Vernon believe. . . .
Religious practice is not only an essential freedom, it generates billions of dollars worth of public good nationally, according to a Cardus study, helping even those who may never visit a congregation.
Go here for the full comment.
* COVID in the courts
Peter Stockland, senior writer with Cardus, and editor of Convivium, spoke with John Carpay, founder and president of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF) about several upcoming legal challenges to pandemic restrictions.
Here is a portion of his comment, posted January 25:
Carpay is prepared to do the talking in court as he and the JCCF press ahead with legal challenges in five provinces [including BC] to the shutdowns, lockdown, masking orders and other measures governments have mandated since last spring.
In a recent interview with Convivium, the Alberta-based lawyer says the group acknowledges that some temporary restrictions in mid-March were justified. They were based on the potential lethality of the virus with scant hard data to determine its real nature.
That was then, this is now, and nothing supports the continued infringements on Charter-protected freedoms, he says.
“Governments just have not made the case based on facts and data that the ongoing and possibly permanent violation of our rights is justified in a free and democratic society,” Carpay tells Convivium. “In a sentence, one could say governments have failed miserably in justifying the violations of our freedom.”
Go here for the full article.
National leaders are taking up the call as well; Preston Manning wrote a January 26 opinion piece for the National Post: ‘Lockdown rules are violating our rights; I’m calling on the justice minister to intervene.’
Dr. Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix will tell us what they have decided about extending, modifying or ending current health orders February 5.
In the meantime, they are probably taking some solace from another headline, posted by CTV News January 24: ‘Most B.C. Christians support temporary ban on in-person religious services to stop COVID-19: poll’:
Results from a new poll suggests that more than 80 per cent of BC residents support the province’s ban on in-person religious services, and the support is equally strong among the province’s Christian communities. . . .
Go here for the full story. And Dr. Henry will be no doubt remember fondly her interaction with the Catholic students.
Fratelli Tutti examined
Two local scholars will lead Reading Fratelli Tutti: Pope Francis’ Vision of Fraternity and Social Friendship this Friday evening (January 29):
Pope Francis’ latest encyclical Fratelli Tutti diagnoses the shortcomings of society that have been laid bare by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Inspired by the Gospel and the example of St. Francis of Assisi, Francis invites all to embrace fraternity and social friendship in order to build a more just world.
Fr. Nick Meisl and Nick Olkovich will introduce and contextualize the encyclical, highlight important themes and invite participants to reflect on its implications for their Christian living.
Meisl is assistant professor at Corpus Christi and St. Mark’s Colleges and Olkovich is assistant professor at St. Mark’s College; both college are on the UBC campus.
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TWU Live: Bringing Campus to You – February 10, 2021 at 4:00 pm - 5:00 pm
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SIM: Faithful Witness in Forgotten Communities – February 11, 2021 at 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
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Mission Central Conference: GROW – February 19, 2021 - February 20, 2021 at 6:30 pm - 5:30 pm
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