Reconciling Civil Liberties and Public Health in the Response to COVID-19   [open pdf - 0B]

From the Introduction: "Within the span of a few months, a new virus named SARS-CoV-2 [severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2] (which causes the disease COVID-19 [coronavirus disease 2019]) has altered the course of nations and the world, introducing rapid and sweeping changes to our lives, social interactions, government functioning, and global relations. Most of us have accepted the need for measures designed to slow the pandemic's spread and buy ourselves time--time for our hospitals to treat cases without being overwhelmed, time to study the disease and develop treatments and (hopefully) a vaccine. But measures taken to 'flatten the curve' have imposed real collateral damage, some in the register of public health: the cancellation of elective surgeries has stalled the treatment of life-threatening diseases, almost certainly putting lives at risk; lockdown orders have impacted mental health, causing some to suffer anxiety, depression and a heightened risk of suicide; 'sheltering at home' poses a higher risk of physical harm for victims of domestic violence; and globally, the disruption of the economy and government services will exacerbate problems of food insecurity. [...] In this briefing, we want to first outline some of the impacts on civil liberties resulting from this pandemic and response efforts, and then discuss the underlying legal principles that guide thinking about civil rights and public health. [...] Some civil liberties may be given legal protection through a range of legal sources, most fundamentally through entrenchment in the 'Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms'. In the discussion that follows, we explore the interaction between civil liberties and collective goals of public health using the framework provided by the 'Charter' to show that rights are not trump cards in the way it is often thought, and that they need to be balanced with public health goals such as protecting people from suffering and death from COVID-19."

Royal Society of Canada
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