As some places in Canada enter their fourth wave, we have some provinces finally taking up “Vaccine Passports” (Immunization Records) to prove you have been vaccinated to gain access to non-essential places and services like the gym, the movies, bars and restaurants. Throughout the pandemic, there has been a very definite divide between those who were willing to wear masks and not, then those who wanted to be vaccinated and those who refused. Obviously making vaccines mandatory to enter some locations has further split communities on where they stand during this pandemic.
More recently, some of those who are refusing to be vaccinated have started to compare their “struggle” to the abhorrent treatment of some racialized people like Rosa Parks, or the treatment of Indigenous people in Residential Schools. Regardless of whether you believe we should be vaccinated or not, I hope we can all agree that no part of the vaccine mandate is comparable to any civil rights struggle and the despicable treatment racialized people have faced and continue to face globally.
I have had this conversation recently with a friend who shared a post on Instagram describing what those who are choosing not to get vaccinated against COVID are experiencing as “discrimination”. I explained that comparing the choice being made not to get vaccinated to what people experience because of the colour of their skin, their gender, who they love, how they identify, their age, their weight is simply incorrect, unfair, and belittles what those people are going through. Refusing to be vaccinated is a choice, and that choice comes with consequences and while I can understand feeling that those consequences are unfair, it is not the same as being discriminated against because of something out of your control that is inherently your personhood, identity, or part of your being.
What is even further problematic is trying to compare resisting vaccination to the amazing bravery and courage of someone like Rosa Parks when resisting racism and segregation. Are these people delusional? Or is it that they think piggybacking off of BLM and Indigenous issues will help spread their ill-informed opinion?
Comparing (again) a choice not to get vaccinated to the torture, genocide and segregation racialized people have faced further alienates people from understanding and offering compassion to those who do not want to be vaccinated. Again, not vaccinated against COVID-19 is a choice. The Indigenous who were forced into Residential Schools were sought out simply because of their culture, practices and way of being and were forced into assimilation and genocide at the hands of the church and the government. The Black people who were forced into slavery were also persecuted simply because of their skin tone and existence. In both of those cases, these racialized people were stripped of their rights and dignity not because of a choice but because of how they, as a group, lived, existed and looked. No one is trying to eradicate, kill, or even assimilate those who are not vaccinated. The government has simply said that if you do not want to be vaccinated from COVID-19 then you are a risk to the health and safety of those around you and we will limit where you can go until you either get vaccinated yourself, or this pandemic blows over. These situations are not the same! So stop, please stop acting as if they are.
Even the Ontario Human Rights Commission has released a statement saying that the vaccine mandate does not go against any human rights as long as exemptions are allowed for those medically unable to be vaccinated. In places like New Brunswick where there has been a serious uptick in cases though they were once leading the charge in having the lowest cases, you have a perfect example as to why vaccination is so important and why these mandates are being created. If you are choosing not to be vaccinated, you can stand by your choice without making it about race, without comparing yourselves to others who have struggled, and without belittling those who have been discriminated against for simply existing. If racialized people could have chosen not to be hated, murdered, persecuted for simply existing, trust me, we would have. If you can choose not to be vaccinated and not fear for your life because of that consequence, then we are not the same.