No matter how tired we are of COVID-19, one thing must be clear — behaviour that harasses public health officials is not only unacceptable, but wholly unproductive in fighting this pandemic.
They say that bad times bring out the best in people.
The best of Saskatchewan is found in the actions we’ve taken to fight this pandemic. Last year, at the outset of the pandemic, around 200 University of Saskatchewan students formed the Saskatchewan Public Health Student Task Force. Stepping up to help, they volunteered their time to answer the HealthLine 811 number, schedule testing and deliver negative test results.
But we’ve also seen our fair share of impolite behaviour.
Late last month, a group of protestors marched on the personal residence of Dr. Saqib Sahab, the province’s chief medical health officer. According to the Regina Leader Post, at least a dozen people took their COVID-19-denying, anti-mask message to Shahab’s street. It was also reported that there was even a “verbal altercation with a neighbour.”
In the aftermath of this situation, Premier Scott Moe said that two police agencies have been tasked with securing the safety of Shahab and his family.
While this is shocking, it is something we should have seen coming. This is an escalation of behaviours that we’ve been seeing over the past few months.
On Jan. 13, a group of anti-mask protestors followed Shahab from the Sask. Legislative Building to his car, requiring him to be escorted by security. On Dec. 12, during an ati-mask “freedom rally” at the legislative building, Shahab was subject to xenophobic comments. A protestor commented that he had trouble remembering “foreigners” names and purposefully stumbled over Shahab’s name.
This is not okay.
Beyond dismissing the efforts of a public health official, this behaviour aims to do much worse. It attempts to intimidate Shahab, and other public health officials who are trying to do their job.
These incidents don’t even start on the storm on social media platforms. The Government of Saskatchewan and Saskatchewan Health Authority email, phone and social media accounts have received threatening messages, including messages directed to Shahab.
A year into the pandemic, rather than having productive conversations about how to move forward, people are forcing our public health officials to have a security detail. What an awful place we have reached.
No public health official should have to fear for their own or their family’s safety while trying to steer a province through a crisis. While there has been widespread condemnation of this behaviour, this is not a one-off incident, but rather a natural build-up to people’s rhetoric since last spring. We, politicians and citizens alike, have to do a better job of saying, loud and clear, that this behaviour is unacceptable, especially when it threads in racism.
So, to the protestors I say, if you are really truly outraged by the pandemic, or the actions that it has required the government to take, know that yelling threats and stalking someone is not productive at all.
Simply put, your actions do nothing to solve the very problem you are angry about.
Instead of such unacceptable and unproductive behaviour, I encourage you to follow public health guidelines like wearing a mask and avoiding mass gatherings. I also encourage you to stay informed about the pandemic from science-based resources.
Discourse should always be welcomed in a democracy, so if you have a concern about the direction this province’s pandemic response is headed, as many have had, voice it respectfully. Maybe your ideas will help us get to a better place.
Lastly, remember, while we can’t all be healthcare workers or vaccine developers — although that would be useful just about now — that doesn’t mean we can’t contribute to fighting this pandemic, just not by yelling and stalking.
This op-ed was written by a University of Saskatchewan undergraduate student and reflects the views and opinions of the writer. If you would like to write a reply, please email email@example.com. Vaidehee Lanke is a third-year undergraduate student studying bioinformatics and is the Opinions Editor at The Sheaf Publishing Society.