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  • Writer's pictureMatt Harrison

Civic-mindedness? Yah right.

Imagine what the roads might be like if we stopped enforcing traffic laws. Wild West meets Mad Max. Total carnage. We enforce traffic rules for the common good, even if that means curtailing the ‘freedom’ of the individual to drive fast and reckless.

(You know where I’m going with this.)

If we’re okay with traffic enforcement, why aren’t we okay with enforcement of pandemic restrictions that save lives?

In spite of the ‘stay-at-home’ order by Doug Ford, Ontarians continue to cross the interprovincial bridges en masse to visit Gatineau Park, ski hills, and their cottages. In response, Mayor and Warden of the MRC des Collines Caryl Green said she is relying on the public to make responsible choices; an NCC spokeswoman also commented, saying she’s relying on people’s “civic-mindedness and sense of responsibility” to stay away if you’re from Ontario or out of region.

To which I roll my eyes.

This appeal to “civic-mindedness” is based on the fallacy that people will put others before themselves. Many will; some won’t. And when you’re dealing with a pandemic where it only takes one or two spreaders to infect the many, and where already two million have died worldwide, this kind of appeal is naive and irresponsible.

As I pointed out, if we applied this same civic-mindedness to traffic the result would be chaos. You’d have thought that, when it came to traffic safety, things like seatbelts would be a no-brainer. But when they were first introduced, few wore them and, predictably, injuries and deaths continued to soar.

In 1974, with only one in six Canadians wearing seatbelts, there were 624,000 automobile accidents and nearly 7,000 killed, according to CBC archives, “Seatbelt Safety: Why not buckle up?”

Ontario was the first province to make seat belt usage mandatory in 1976 (Quebec followed that same year). In the first year of enforcement in Ontario, there were 204 fewer deaths and 12,000 fewer injuries. Other provinces took longer; Alberta was one of the later provinces to make it mandatory, and even after it was enforced, only 28 per cent of Albertans buckled up. Some sought ‘medical exemptions’ from having to wear one, while others exclaimed, “I don't believe that anybody should tell me what the hell I have to do,” (CBC archives, 1987: “Seatbelt law divides Albertans”) — a sentiment all-too familiar today with regard to pandemic restrictions.

According to the Canadian Journal of Public Health, making seat belts mandatory in Ontario resulted in a belt use increase of “more than threefold from before to after the law went in force.” What’s even more interesting is that this “increase was halved after the law was weakened to exclude shoulder belt use in pre-1974 cars” — demonstrating strong laws – along with the will to enforce them – is key.

Stay-at-home orders and the like are not for us to enforce, however. Nor is it up to Caryl Green, the municipalities or the NCC. It’s up to our provincial governments.

So Legault/Ford: given the truth about human nature, it’s time to ‘buckle up’: order authorities to start checking plates and hand out fines to non-essential travellers. It’s the only way we’re going to save lives.


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