Lockdowns, Cops, and The Decentralization of Ontario

A great and wonderful thing is happening here in Ontario! Doug Ford and his “conservative” party have implemented (by his own admission) “the strictest measures in all of North America” in order to combat the spread of COVID-19. That’s not the good news, of course. It is the public reaction to these lockdowns that is so wonderful. They are finally being met with some popular resistance! There are calls for Ford to resign and Ontarians ran to Niagara Falls sending SOS signals to our southern neighbors. Even the pro-lockdown left-liberals have come out against Ford’s new restrictions. Of course, their opposition arises because Ford hasn’t “followed the science”; they have not stopped to ask if forcing 14 million people to stay in their homes except for government-approved activities might be morally objectionable, but it’s a welcome change in tune nonetheless.

But there is something even more wonderful and heartwarming happening. Not only have we finally seen popular resistance from both sides of the political aisle (of course “respectable” conservatives have never opposed the lockdowns lest they be kicked out of their party. We can only turn to the Ontario Libertarian Party and the People’s Party of Canada to find vocal opposition over the last year) but we have seen what is truly a remarkable turn of events from regional and municipal police forces. All over Ontario; in Hamilton, Waterloo, Peterborough, Sudbury, London, and other municipalities and regions, local police forces have publicly declared that they will not enforce Ford’s tyrannical lockdown measures with random vehicle stops; a “temporary” increase in police power which the Ford government announced on Friday.

What an unexpected but welcome response. What a great future we might see if local police forces started deciding which provincial legislation to enforce (and an even better future if they did the same with federal legislation)! Imagine if those centers of Canadian power in Toronto and Ottawa were to lose the violent enforcement arm of their organizations i.e. the cops. No longer could bureaucrats in Queen’s Park tell autoworkers in Windsor, some 350km away, miners in Sudbury, some 400km away, or paper manufacturers in Thunder Bay some 1,400km away, how much cannabis they can have, how much they can rent housing for, or where they can buy their milk with the mere stroke of a pen. Instead, they must hope that the local police forces there will decide to enforce their edicts. If this were to be the new norm, there may be greater importance placed on local government. Now, those council members which make up various local police boards might do much more than decide which areas to patrol for parking violations but would have a real say in which provincial legislation was enforced in their area. What an incredible shift towards decentralization this would be!

Not only would this plunge a knife into the side of centralized government in Ontario, but it might actually help us get through this pandemic. Last November I had the pleasure of hearing Katherine DeLand speak at the University of Waterloo, “Research Talks: Curing the COVID-19 pandemic”. Deland was part of the World Health Organization’s Ebola response. In her talk, she made clear the importance of local solutions to problems surrounding the Ebola outbreak. Different areas had different needs depending on a number of factors including the resources available to them and their culture. Suffice it to say, this was not exactly the talk I had expected to receive from a member of the WHO.

The always brilliant Hans-Hermann Hoppe echoed this sentiment in his excellent interview with Thomas Jacob saying,

[I]f the course of current events has demonstrated anything, it is not how necessary or efficient central authorities and decisions are, but conversely how critically important decentralized decisions and decision-makers are.

The danger emanating from an epidemic is never the same everywhere, for everyone, at the same time. The situation in France is different than that in Germany or Congo, and conditions in China are not the same as in Japan. And within diverse countries, the threat level differs from region to region, from one city to another, between urban and rural areas, depending on the demographic and cultural composition of the population. Moreover, there is a whole range of greatly differing assessments and proposals concerning what and what not to do in the face of this threat level, all put forward by equally “certified scientific experts.” Therefore, any centralized, nationwide (in extreme cases, worldwide) measure to avert danger – a “one-size-fits-all” model – must from the outset seem absurd and inappropriate.

But we need not only reject national and global solutions to the pandemic, we must go further. If it really is the case that local solutions are preferable to centralized (i.e. provincial or federal) ones, then why stop at municipalities? Don’t particular burrows, districts, and neighborhoods have distinct needs which vary from others? What about individual city blocks? Or individual households? Might we even go so far as to suggest that decision-making should be left to each individual who has his own needs, resources, plans, and projects to consider?

We’re not there yet, but an Ontario where the provincial government cannot count on local authorities to enforce its legislation is a start. The decisions from these police departments rings out in hopefulness for a better, decentralized future.

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