B.C.’s Human Rights Commissioner has written a letter to Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry urging her to reinstate the mask mandate.
In the letter, Kasari Govender says the sudden removal of the mask mandate will have profound effects on vulnerable people in the province.
“While many of us have the good fortune to simply move on with life, thousands of British Columbians will be left behind because of their age, disability, or other protected characteristic under B.C.’s Human Rights Code,” the letter says. “Some of us are more vulnerable than others to the virus, and public health policy must consider these disproportionate impacts.”
Govender goes on to say that due to the removal of the mask mandate, many seniors and disabled people will feel the need to isolate themselves in order to stay safe from the virus.
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She also notes that Indigenous people are overrepresented in high-transmission work sites, and children under five are not yet eligible for a vaccine.
“Lifting the mask mandate will do disproportionate harm to those who are already marginalized, forcing many to withdraw from activities of daily life in an effort to protect their health, and reducing the capacity to enjoy their human rights to their full extent,” Govender says in the letter.
She notes that many people are understandably tired of wearing masks, but it’s a comparatively minor infringement on a person’s autonomy.
“I also agree that we can never eliminate all risk and that we will need to learn to live with an endemic virus,” the letter says. “But the mask mandate is not about eliminating risk; it is about sharing the risk burden across society rather than transferring it to a marginalized or medically vulnerable minority.”
Govender notes that a balance must be reached in the conflict of human rights.
“Given the benefits of the mask mandate for thousands of marginalized people and the minimal impact on those being asked to wear one, the balance at this time favours continuing the mask mandate,” the letter says. “As an effective and minimally invasive intervention, the mask mandate is justified long after other more intrusive public health measures have been lifted.”
“That people dislike wearing masks is not a compelling argument when weighed against the rights of others to life, security of person, and equal participation in social and economic life.”