Last week Sam tagged me on something I wish I didn’t have to know because it was so incredibly disappointing. It’s a site called Ontariobad.ca and it’s a place where businesses who intend not to follow the province’s COVID restrictions proudly announce their intention under the misguided banner “Businesses against Discrimination.”
I call the banner misguided because discrimination goes against someone’s human rights, and requiring proof of vaccination does not. This is an important point because who could not be on the side of “businesses against discrimination”? But if they are confused about what constitutes “discrimination,” well that’s a whole separate issue.
Because so many people who I like and thought were smart and reasonable have turned out during the pandemic to have views that have shocked me, I have tried to see “the other side.” But Zoe Whittal’s tweet really resonates:
So back to my yoga studio. I missed hot yoga terribly during the various lockdowns and restrictions. Before the pandemic I had spent $1000 on a one-year unlimited pass that I didn’t get to use because of lockdowns. Not wanting to leave the studio with a financial hit when I had the privilege of continuing to work and be paid, I didn’t ask for a suspension or any sort of compensation. The year came and went. The pass expired.
I was ready to go back to the studio in late-August after an 18-month absence. I bought a ten-class pass to start, not sure how it would feel. After ten classes I felt ready to commit to a monthly membership (instead of shelling out all at once for another annual pass) that had an initial contractual commitment for four months.
Not quite a month into my commitment, government regulations to quell the spread of the delta variant kicked in, requiring fitness facilities and various other businesses to ask for proof of vaccination. My studio refused. And advertised their refusal on the OntarioBAD website.
Zoe Wittal’s tweet resonates because let’s remember what we are trying to prevent here: not just death from COVID (which seems not to be motivation enough for some) but the collapse of the health care system. Alberta is on the brink of that right now, where ICUs are dominated by unvaccinated COVID patients. COVID doesn’t eliminate other emergencies. So if you need an ICU bed for another reason, you may be out of luck. You may be sent to another province (if they can accommodate). You may die or worsen before you can receive adequate care.
When people frame this as an issue of freedom, choice, and discrimination, they are ignoring the provision in the first clause of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms where it says that the rights and freedoms are guaranteed “subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.” Have the people who make the freedom and discrimination argument ever looked at the Charter? That “reasonable limits” part is key. That’s why we can have laws that limit people’s exposure to second-hand smoke. That’s why we can have speed limits. That’s why we can limit people’s freedom to do other things that harm others, like murder, assault, and stealing. These things don’t infringe on our rights because they are reasonable limits that can be demonstrably justified.
And such is the case with COVID restrictions that are “demonstrably justified” by the current science. Is it perfect? No. Does it change? Yes. But is it more or less on track and getting better all the time? Yes.
Remember at the beginning of the pandemic when they said wearing a mask was doing your part to protect others? Vaccines are similar (and when we see who is filling the ICUs right now we can see it also protects the vaccinated). So when a yoga studio, which purports to care about health and “wellness” flouts the legal provisions which are in place, based on the current science, to limit outbreaks that could result in death and the collapse of the health care system, they are terribly misguided. They are putting their clientele at risk. And they are not doing their part as citizens.
My studio took this position without any communication whatsoever with its members. They simply stayed silent, offering no statement about how they would handle the proof of vaccination legislation one way or the other. I learned of their stance when someone outside of the community sent me a link to OntarioBAD. This too does a huge disservice to the members, not allowing them to make an informed decision about supporting a business that will now attract unvaccinated people who have fewer places they may frequent at present. This in turn increases risk of exposure to the highly contagious Delta variant.
My studio agreed to release me from my contract. I was very sad to have to go because I have been part of the community for over a decade. I don’t wish them ill and I acknowledge that this is not an easy time for fitness outlets. Many have closed their doors permanently. The studio has managed to keep its doors open under difficult circumstances. And that made many people grateful, including me. But at a certain point in these challenging times we need to stand on principle and science or lose integrity.
I don’t know if I will ever be able to go back or if they would have me back.
But my answer to the question “what do you do if your yoga studio breaks the COVID laws with righteous ignorance?” is: Cancel your membership.
What would you do?