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Papers, please

Dene Moore
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Dene Moore: Yes, there are “Covidiots” and scofflaws out there. But over the long term, self-appointed watchdogs and vigilantes will cause even more harm.

There is another epidemic getting out of control in B.C., and there’s no vaccine.

Last weekend an Alberta dad delivering his daughter to university in B.C. had the window smashed out of his vehicle in a Kamloops hotel parking lot.

Nothing was taken; the owner speculated on Twitter his Alberta licence plates put the target on his truck.

On the coast, B.C. boaters are monitoring sea traffic for wayward Americans trying to circumvent the border closure, and all along the Alaska Highway, travellers with U.S. plates are under the ever-watchful eyes of self-appointed Covid cops with their cellphone cameras and social media snitch pages at the ready.

Virus vigilantism is running roughshod over our cool Canadian politesse.

Look on any friendly small-town Facebook page and you’ll find a list of snitch posts a mile long. Photos of suspects, video of must-be Typhoid Marys, their out-of-town licence plates spurring a growing army of grassroots pathogen police to release the hounds.

In the worst cases, virus vigilantes aren’t content to snap a picture and make snide remarks. According to media reports, police around the province have received calls about disputes sparked by locals confronting out-of-towners.

It’s not just travellers who are targets. Neighbours who seem to have a few too many people around their fire pit at night; fellow drugstore shoppers who breach the six-feet; local stores whose staff haven’t donned masks (even though masks are not yet mandatory in most commercial settings). The virus narc net stretches far and wide.

The federal government recently launched a snitch line for COVID-19 aid fraud. Several provinces, including Newfoundland and Labrador and Alberta, have quickly produced online reporting forms. The 9-1-1 emergency line was getting so many calls in some jurisdictions, including Montreal and Toronto, that local police or city officials had to set up whistleblower web forms and tattling call lines.

Some will blame fear. When we feel the world around us is out of control, we will find ways to exert some level of control.

But is that it?

It might offer us some sheepish relief if we hadn’t already so wholeheartedly embraced social media shaming and cash-for-tips culture. Going viral with a 10-second video of some anonymous person behaving badly has become a popular pastime for far too many; playing name-and-shame a virtual part-time job for some.

Keep in mind there are no longer travel restrictions in place on our provincial boundaries.

To our credit, B.C. has not set up a snitch line. The province’s chief public health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, has largely led the province through this pandemic – and very well – without taking the hardline of some of her counterparts elsewhere. Dr. Bonnie says kindness will get us through this.

Sage advice.

Snitching ends up disproportionately targeting communities that are already at a disadvantage. Racism, classism and otherism inevitably play a role. So, too, do jealousy and revenge.

And let’s face it, we’re all just in a damn bad mood because…2020.

There are measures in place to monitor and take measures against public health scofflaws who violate quarantines and other measures.

The province has most recently instituted a tagging system and time limits to ensure Americans en route to Alaska make the trip as quickly as possible, and in compliance with quarantine rules. A quick scan of webpages for Alaskan snowbirds suggests the vast majority are taking those rules very seriously and planning accordingly.

Public health officials, police and municipal bylaw officers have the ability to ticket and fine violations of public health measures.

Serious violations should be met with repercussions. But let’s not overwhelm officials with petty complaints or virtue signalling. Let’s not disparage each other today when we need to work together tomorrow.

Yes, there are Covidiots. Some are our neighbours. Some are passing through. Whether there is a pandemic or a dry summer with a high wildfire risk, there are those among us who stand ready to test Darwin’s theory.

But the self-appointed guardians of the public good will do as much damage as the virus if left unchecked.

Dene Moore is an award-winning journalist and writer. A news editor and reporter for The Canadian Press news agency for 16 years, Moore is now a freelance journalist living in the South Cariboo. Moore’s two decades in daily journalism took her as far afield as Kandahar as a war correspondent and the Innu communities of Labrador. She has worked in newsrooms in Vancouver, Montreal, Regina, Saskatoon, St. John’s and Edmonton. She has been published in the Globe and Mail, Maclean’s magazine, the New York Times and the Toronto Star, among others. She is a Habs fan and believes this is the year.

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