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  • Writer's pictureMichael Laxer

The Ontario lockdown was a tragedy, the stay-at-home order is a farce

Updated: Jan 14, 2021

With many loopholes, big box stores still fully operating, few new workplace closures and no paid sick leave, the "stay-at-home" order seems unlikely to accomplish its alleged goals. It will open the door for arbitrary police and by-law enforcement actions, however.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford announces "stay-at-home" order, January 12 -- Screenshot via CPAC.

On November 20 after Doug Ford announced a "lockdown" in parts of Ontario I noted in the piece Call what the Ford government did whatever you want, but it is not a lockdown that:

This version of a lockdown will see the "closure of gyms, recreation facilities and personal care services while also limiting all non-essential retail stores to curbside pickup only." Meanwhile schools will remain open as will "supermarkets, hardware stores, department stores, convenience stores, pharmacies and beer and liquor stores, all of which will now face a 50 per cent capacity limit."
The other thing that will remain open are countless large workplaces in Peel Region and Toronto.
Call this whatever you want, but it is not a lockdown. It is also difficult to see how it will prove effective.
The Ford government is closing down the retail outlets and workplaces that are the least responsible for the second wave. It is a big business wet dream and will greatly benefit large and online retailers at the expense of smaller ones.

Sadly, the "lockdown" has proven ineffective. Expanding it on Boxing Day also failed to lower the case count especially as the government waited through the whole Christmas retail and gathering season to do it.

With new cases of Covid soaring and with truly alarming projections for its growth over the coming weeks, the Ford government is going further with a new state of emergency and a "stay-at-home" order.

On the plus side, the province is keeping the schools shut down after the holiday break for an extended period in the province's "hot zones". On a far more negative note, the province is not closing the big box stores or forcing them to close off the areas of the stores that do not sell essential goods like groceries.

They are also not introducing any paid sick days. Without them workers will remain at work when feeling sick and even when possibly infected with Covid as they cannot afford to stay home. This is deeply, profoundly shameful and cannot possibly be seen as in the interests of public health. It is in the interests of the business community and the business community alone.

An eviction ban which appeared to be the works also failed to materialize.

The "stay-at-home" order itself is full of loopholes that render it basically meaningless other than as a tool for the police and by-law officers to arbitrarily harass random people and the homeless just as they did at the beginning of the pandemic. Given the way policing works in Ontario this harassment will be certain to fall more heavily on people from racialized and marginalized communities.

As Michael Bryant, executive director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association noted: "During the first wave of the pandemic, there were a disproportionate number of tickets for the homeless, the vulnerable and for racialized minorities".

Yet, between groceries, the beer store, work, the pharmacy and "exercise" anyone who wants a reason to leave the house and is not from a community unfairly targeted by law enforcement will not have any difficulty in finding one.

Ford himself basically admitted as much when placing the onus of deciding what is "essential" on people themselves stating: "I know essential means different things to different people ... so we need everyone to use their best judgment. If you're not sure if a trip is absolutely essential, it probably isn't." Useful.

There are very few further workplace closures -- no doubt at least in part due to the fact that millions of people cannot afford to be off work again for an extended time and many cannot pay all the bills, the rent or the mortgage if they were to be on the government's inadequate assistance programs or EI for months. Forcing some retailers (though not all by any means) to be open somewhat shorter hours is window-dressing. It may even mean more people will be shopping at the same time which would be counterproductive.

Clearly the Ford government wishes to be seen as acting decisively and even sternly, but the details belie the alleged intent. It is difficult to see how this will avert a worst case scenario barring a faster roll out of vaccinations or good luck.

Update: After this piece was posted the government announced that homeless people would be exempt from the order. While in theory this will prevent them from being issued fines, in practice it will not prevent them from being stopped and harassed by police or by-law officers.

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