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Study finds vaccine passports had little effect, while the mandate debate rages on

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A new study has found that the controversial and short-lived vaccine passports introduced by the provinces in 2021 to boost vaccination coverage only increased the number of people with a first dose by less than one percentage point in Ontario and Quebec.

The study, published in the CMAJ Open journal, found that vaccine passports also had “little impact on reducing economic and racial inequities in vaccine coverage.”

The researchers noted the already high coverage rate in the two provinces before the passports were introduced, which was more than 80 percent, and found that the “impact was larger among people aged 12 to 39 years old,” or the people who were at the least risk from the virus.

The researchers speculated that mandates and passports likely had a weak effect on the remaining hold-outs because they were people who didn’t trust health authorities and the government.

“The group not yet vaccinated by the time of the announcements may have largely been composed of individuals experiencing long-standing, systemic, and persistent barriers to vaccination or vaccine mistrust,” the paper reads.

Canadians got a reminder last week that these debates are still raging in the country, despite the fact that the provinces removed the vaccine passport requirement nearly a year and a half ago.

A private member’s bill banning any future federal vaccine mandates that was originally introduced by Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre before he was leader of the party was voted down by MPs last Wednesday.

The bill would have banned any future COVID-19 vaccine mandates on federal workers and travellers in Canada. While the provincial passports allowed businesses, like restaurants, to require customers to be vaccinated, the federal rules applied to air travel and trains.

In a House of Commons debate that was reminiscent of the country’s fractious 2021 election campaign, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Poilievre “chooses to wear a tinfoil hat” and “divide Canadians” on the issue.

In an earlier debate on the bill, Poilievre argued that it was the vaccine mandates and the accompanying Liberal rhetoric that divided and polarized Canadians on the issue.

“(Trudeau) wanted us all to forget the way he divided, insulted, and name-called millions of people right across this country who are patriotic, law-abiding, decent people,” said Poilievre.

That view was echoed by Liberal MP Joël Lightbound during the Freedom Convoy protest in early 2022 that gridlocked Ottawa and temporarily shut down border crossings in the country, in a widespread revolt against COVID-19 restrictions and mandates.

Lightbound pushed his party to “stop dividing Canadians” and told reporters that on the issue of vaccine mandates, “both the tone and the policies of my government changed drastically on the eve and during the (2021) election campaign.”

Although the relatively small effect of vaccination coverage of the provincial vaccine passports is increasingly becoming clear, the secondary effects are still coming to light.

Convoy organizers Tamara Lich and Chris Barber continue to spend their days at an Ottawa courthouse for their role in the protests and the fairness, and the legality of vaccine mandates continues to be litigated.

The Canadian Constitution Foundation’s Christine Van Geyn and Joanna Baron, who have a book coming out next month on civil liberties during the pandemic, said the vaccine mandates were often indiscriminately and unfairly enforced.

“We worked with a number of patients who could not get vaccinated for really good faith reasons. For example, a teenage girl we were working with who got pericarditis as a result of her first dose of the COVID vaccine, so obviously, not an anti-vaxxer,” said Van Geyn, in an interview with The Hub.

“She’s ineligible for a second dose of the vaccine and the government in B.C. said, if she wanted an exemption… she had to apply every time she wanted to do something. So if she wanted to go to a craft show she had to apply, if she wanted to visit her grandmother she had to apply. She was excluded from a lot of things,” said Van Geyn.

Baron said that the pandemic should have ingrained a deep lesson on public health experts and government officials about what can happen if they overreach during a health emergency.

“When you have a public health emergency that goes on, there needs to be a recognition that there are several social goods. Reduction or elimination of transmission of a virus cannot be seen as the only social good,” said Baron.

“As we develop a more sophisticated understanding of the negative repercussions of public health interventions—I think the most commonly accepted one now is the impact of school closures—it’s just way too myopic to put on tunnel vision and say our only objective, and the government’s only objective, has to be reduction of transmission,” she said.

‘The search for authenticity is a dead end’: Three key insights from Tara Isabella Burton’s Hub Dialogue

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The idea of “self-making” has long been part of the culture—particularly in North America, but has it changed in the internet age? Are we socialized to see ourselves as works of arts to be painted according to whomever or whatever we want to be? And where does this instinct come from? Is “self-making” a sign of the religious impulse manifesting itself in the secular world?

The Hub spoke with Tara Isabella Burton about her new book, Self-Made: Creating Our Identities from Da Vinci to the Kardashians, in which she outlines the idea of self-making, including its causes, consequences, and what it might tell us about contemporary culture.

1. Self-making involves treating ourselves as “a work of art”

“Self-making obviously has many facets. But I think the thing that unites all of the self-makers in my book is this idea that one’s own life, one’s identity, is something that the human being has not just the right, but maybe even the obligation, to shape like a work of art. That both our public persona and our destiny exist for us to choose and to shape. I argue in the book that this is a quintessentially modern idea. We see it, particularly from the Renaissance onwards, as the genesis of this sense that there are some people, special people, who have the right or the authority to choose their own destiny. We have since seen this idea transform over the centuries into what I argue is the kind of ideology today. This is just how we are all in the miasma of culture in 2023 in which we are trained to think about our own lives.”

2. The religious impulse doesn’t disappear—it just redefines the “sacred”

“I want to push back against the language of secularism because I think that perhaps a more precise way of framing the argument I want to make is that the sense of religion has moved from orthodox  (lowercase “o”), traditionally understood, organized religion, to something a little bit more diffuse and self-directed. I don’t think we’re living in necessarily a secular age…I think the major change is this sort of divinization of elements of human desire, in particular, the human will, human wanting, as constitutive of who we really are. So from the Renaissance onwards, we see these sorts of cultural shifts.

We see these sorts of outcroppings culturally with the idea that the self is a self-maker, the self, who controls his destiny—and it is usually him, at least until the 20th century—that this is a kind of spiritual, magical power. Often the language of magic is really front and centre…so the idea is less that sort of secularism. The very simple version, or perhaps too simplistic version, is in the absence of the power of the ecclesiastical hierarchies, people create their own destinies. I think the slightly more complicated version of that argument is that the act of creation—the act of human beings wanting something and going for it—is increasingly understood as the most sacred part of ourselves, one might say, the thing that makes us us. So it’s a relocation of the divine and divine authority from something out there to within the human creative spirit.”

3. The search for authenticity is a dead end

“I think all forms of kind of public presentation of ourselves tell the story of ourselves over and over, whether it’s through the clothing that we choose, whether it’s through the words we choose, are the accents we cultivate. I think that the idea that there is some kind of true, untrammeled, authentic self that can be expressed through these potentially artificial or willed means, that the act of choosing how we present ourselves publicly is somehow a conduit to the true expression within—that itself is the modern ideal. The idea that there’s this internal emotional ‘us,’ and then there’s this outside persona. And yet the persona is something that we can choose. I don’t think any of us can get out of that cultural assumption. So I think the search for authenticity is a dead end.”

Listen to Tara Isabelle Burton’s full interview with The Hub’s editor-at-large Sean Speer on the audio player below or on your favourite podcast app. 

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