Even as more provinces do away with vaccine passports, society has not completely reopened to the unvaccinated. The federal vaccine mandate for air and rail travel remains in place, as do many public sector workforce mandates.
The lifting of provincial vaccine passport regimes in most provinces has also created a new issue – businesses choosing to require proof of vaccination from their customers in the absence of a government directive.
The Alberta government stands out for strongly discouraging this practice, though other provincial governments – in particular local public health officials – have actively encouraged businesses to keep requiring proof of vaccination on their own.
It doesn’t escape me that these are the same governments who denied businesses the choice of opting out of vaccine passports.
While all the businesses I’ve encountered this week have abandoned vaccine passports, I’ve learned of several which haven’t, including the Toronto Zoo and a few cultural venues and gyms.
Vaccine passports are divisive, wrong, and discriminatory. This is true whether it’s government or a private business requiring them. I don’t hold this view because I’m against vaccination, but rather because I believe it’s a matter of individual choice.
The nature of choice – of liberty – is that people have the right to pursue paths which may wildly diverge from my own. Just as I support people making their own decisions about vaccination, I support business owners making their own decisions about how to operate.
The answer to business practices you disapprove of is to take your money elsewhere – not to compel private businesses to conform to your values.
As I said in what ended up being a somewhat controversial tweet the other day, if a company wants to keep mandating vaccination, have at it – but don't expect a dime from me.
Most of the negative response to this sentiment, on which I elaborated on my show, comes from people who cry “But it’s discrimination!” It is, but that isn’t the point of contention. The question is whether that should be illegal.
I’ve been consistent on this for years. I don’t think Christian bakers should be forced to bake gay wedding cakes, or that Muslim aestheticians should be forced to offer waxing services to transgender women.
For that matter, I don’t think Muslim bakers should be forced to wax transgender aestheticians, or that baristas should be forced to serve people wearing socks and sandals.
The details and identity groups at play in the above scenarios shouldn’t matter all that much (except for the socks and sandals group, against whom most would likely support some form of discrimination). What matters is the idea of force.
Anyone saying a business should not be allowed deny service to the unvaccinated is, in effect, saying it’s appropriate for the state to compel action from a private business. This is incompatible with a liberal society.
What I’m describing here, admittedly, is a libertarian utopia that doesn’t exist in Canada, in large part because of human rights tribunals tasked with intervening in the private sphere, where the Charter of Rights and Freedoms does not apply. These quasi-judicial tribunals impose a state morality on private interactions, often at the expense of individual choice and personal morality.
The Ontario Human Rights Commission’s position is that vaccine passports are “generally permissible” so long as there is a bit of room for medical exemptions. Nowhere in its policy does it recognize religious exemptions, though it specifically rejects that personal opposition to vaccination gives you a discrimination case against anyone who denies you service.
You can criticize the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s position as inconsistent, but contradictions are inevitable when you have a government body reconciling conflicts between gender identity and sex, religion and sexual orientation, or any other clash of identities. The liberal answer is to err on the side of choice, not entitlement or compulsion.
I can already hear the emotional straw man: “Well, should businesses be allowed to deny service to [minority group]?”
Through the lens of liberty, the answer must be yes.
“But racism is wrong,” critics continue. No argument from me, but we’re not talking about right and wrong, we’re talking about legal and illegal. It’s troublesome that many on the right have taken up the left’s favorite pastime – seeking to outlaw behaviors they find wrong rather than using their own liberty to combat them.
Freedom of expression and the free market are far better remedies than anything the state can provide. Businesses would be run out of town were they to adopt racially discriminatory policies, and rightfully so.
Just as we can support free speech while condemning specific speech, we can support the right to make business decisions that we find idiotic or even reprehensible.
It may be morally wrong to deny service to the unvaccinated, but compelling private actors to serve those they don’t want to is worse. Unvaccinated people can shop elsewhere – business owners have no alternative if forced by the state to act a certain way.
Those opposing vaccine mandates for the last two years have often pointed out that their fight is with the “mandates” bit, not the “vaccine” bit. It’s perfectly reasonable for someone to be triple vaxxed and double masked and oppose government mandating either. That’s what choice is.
If you’ve spent the last two years demanding choice, you must be prepared to extend that to those whose choices you reject.
If I haven’t convinced you on libertarian grounds, allow me to make an appeal on pragmatism alone.
The government has shown throughout the Covid era it is more motivated by panic than liberty. Do you want that same government to be the arbiter of what decisions businesses can make? There is a contingent of society right now content with indefinitely keeping vaccine passports and mask mandates in place. While I hold them in about the same esteem as they hold the unvaccinated, they are nonetheless part of society too.
Moreover, government has been more responsive to their calls for restrictions than other people’s calls to remove restrictions. If we get one or the other – government-mandated passports or a prohibition on passports, I have little doubt the former will win.
Let those who want to remain 2020 live there indefinitely while the rest of us move on – in liberty.
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