It is impossible not to conclude that Henry’s office has been animated by a hostility to prayer and worship during the pandemic
Let me put it provocatively, but accurately. During the October Crisis of 1970, when prime minister Pierre Trudeau employed the War Measures Act to suspend legal and civil liberties in response to an “apprehended insurrection,” religious liberties were better respected than they have been under Dr. Bonnie Henry’s pandemic protocols in British Columbia.
The provincial health officer’s endlessly repeated mantra is to “be kind.” It turns out that martial law was a kinder version of her medical law.
She has been widely hailed as an expert, a calming figure of public confidence. So great is her popularity that she, like Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York, published a book about her management of the pandemic.
Turns out that martial law was a kinder version of her medical law
She took her big stick to religious believers last November, banning all in-person religious services. All of them, everywhere, no matter what the local conditions, the size the house of worship, the nature of the congregation. Wherever two or three would gather in the Lord’s name, there was Dr. Henry in the midst of them telling them to go home.
That draconian and arbitrary order remained in place until just days ago, a complete abolishing of religious liberty in British Columbia for four months. Only days ago, in the face of court action this month, did Dr. Henry loosen her grip ever so slightly. Even then, she insists on keeping most people outside in their cars — windows rolled up, I expect — while only a few stragglers are permitted to enter.
There is not a shred of scientific data to justify treating religious gatherings more strictly than other gatherings — watching a hockey game at a bar, for example. The BC Centre of Disease Control reports that fewer then 300 cases have emerged from religious gatherings, less than 3/1000ths of B.C.’s 95,000 cases to date.
A coalition of Reformed Christian churches — supported by a wide array of B.C. faith leaders — challenged Dr. Henry’s order in court earlier this month. The chief justice of the B.C. Supreme Court agreed that the restrictions violated all four of the fundamental freedoms in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, surely some kind of record. Dr. Henry had trampled all over freedom of religion, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and freedom of association, but the judge decided that the trampling was permissible because of the pandemic. He upheld the orders — for now.
B.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson nevertheless expressed his astonishment at the unlimited, unaccountable powers Dr. Henry had been granted by the B.C. government.
“Dr. Henry is really holding all the cards,” he said at the hearing. “So how do I know what Dr. Henry is doing and why? … When you deprive the complainants of the ability to understand how (Dr. Henry) got from A to B, the court can’t look at it, it really isn’t much of a review. It gives Dr. Henry absolute authority and if she chooses not to share her thought process with the court, there’s no oversight.”
Dr. Henry is really holding all the cards
“It is a point I’m struggling with,” Hinkson said. “Nobody elected Dr. Henry. She’s been appointed and she has a difficult job. But if you just take it on faith — that’s an ironic term to use — that she’s balancing all of these things.”
It’s not so much ironic as Orwellian. Total power invested in the smiling, soothing, sympathetic voice of the one who whispers “be kind” as she suspends, arbitrarily and without recourse, all the fundamental freedoms in the Charter.
“Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law” — so begins our much-vaunted Charter. Not in B.C. Not anymore. Forget God. Dr. Henry is supreme now?
Raymond J. de Souza