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Balancing rights and responsibilities in pandemic Canada

James Morgan / NCPR News
Ready for a drive-in graduation at a high school in Hawkesbury, ON.

The pandemic has been a lesson in how governments can be effective, or completely incompetent during a crisis. It has also been a big example of the need to balance rights and responsibilities. The past few days have made that apparent, as we are seeing the number of cases increase in the southern and western part of the United States.

In Canada, the need to balance rights and responsibilities has been more subtle. Both Québec and Ontario have entered the second stages of their plans to reopen businesses, services, and other public venues. Places of worship in Ontario are now permitted to hold public services, but only at 30 per cent of the normal seating capacity. Freedom of religion and religious expression are a right in Canada but expressing it in a way that respects the public health situation is a responsibility.

Priests, pastors, elders, deacons and other religious leaders across Ontario have been busy using mathematical formulas not used since high school to figure out what 30% of seating capacity is in their buildings. Some have decided to just continue holding services online because it is easier. Others have begun to organize services within the new rules.

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Ottawa-Cornwall recently printed a lengthy list of rules for clergy and laypeople to follow at public Masses. For the Roman church, the rules are ironically Byzantine (that is a theological joke), but understandably so because of the need to be responsible and protect parishioners and celebrants.

Another amusing example of responsibility has been drive-through high school graduations. Recently, at a high school in Hawkesbury, ON, graduates lined up in cars, usually driven by parents or other family members, and one by one got out, walked up a red carpet to a dais inside a tent, collected their diploma and received a congratulatory remark from the principal standing6' away, and then left to return to Mom or Dad waiting in the car. It was the best that could be done under the circumstances, and the school staff clearly did their best to make it as special as could be.

Girls still wore gowns, boys still wore suits and there were also the more free-thinking types who showed up in ripped jeans and t-shirts with the names of rock bands printed on them. The process seemed happier and less stodgy than the two hours of speeches, singing, and presentations that usually typifies high school graduations held in auditoriums or in a gymnasium with uncomfortable chairs. 

Unfortunately, not everyone is being responsible. The right to use outdoor spaces is being badly abused.

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