He sits by his fireplace wearing a casual but elegant sweater, a drink on a small table by his side ––an eggnog no doubt, given the festive season. Festive? Not really: this is not the usual holiday we celebrate with family and friends. This is Christmas 2020 and we are in the middle of a pandemic, he reminds us thoughtfully. We must all make sacrifices, which means staying home, away from others, respectful of distances, protecting one another. It is a comforting message from an elected official who cares about his constituents.
The Ontario minister of finance’s video, setting an example of conduct for us all, was released by his office on Christmas Eve in a timely fashion. We learned soon afterwards that the video (along with others showing him carrying out some ministerial responsibilities) had been pre-taped and that the man was actually holidaying in St Barts at the time. The clip was replayed on the news where we also continued to hear the exhausted voices of our healthcare workers pleading with us to stay home, wear our masks and keep our distances: the very echo of the minister’s own words.
He was not the only one not to have heeded the message. Several other officials had also discreetly sneaked out of the country and spent Christmas in the sun (Hawaii, Cuba, Florida, etc.) as was later revealed when their Ontario counterpart was found out. When he returned home and resigned, so did they. Some may have misjudged their importance and it is possible that a little heartfelt contrition on their part and a small demotion might have sufficed in their case. The St Barts episode was different: what we could not forgive was the man’s craftily released videos and his crass intent to fool us.
The very exclusive St Barts must be quite pleasant this time of year, and we accept its attraction. As social animals, we recognize that we live in a hierarchy––a harsh taskmaster for some, a benign mistress for others––where some are gladly permitted to do things that others can only aspire to from afar. We are used to the sense of entitlement of the privileged few. Indeed, one such has just been released after serving time for committing fraud so their children could attend one of the best American universities. A few well-connected parents had apparently believed that what is usually obtained through natural talent and hard work could instead be bought outright. Such things always rankle but we are used to them.
However, as we are repeatedly told, these are not normal times and our very safety is at stake. For some, it means their very lives. If a deceitful high-ranking politician is willing to defy the no-travel recommendation in order to enjoy a holiday in the sun, what assurance have we that he will respect the quarantine rule at its strictest? Can we still trust his judgement and honesty? Many COVID19 cases have arisen from visitors or returnees’ lax interpretation of the word ‘confinement’.
Today what used to be mere cheating on the rules, simple queue jumping, shoving someone aside to take their place, all those irritating peccadilloes that life in society forces us to face have taken on another dimension. The wealthy Vancouver couple who chartered a flight to the Yukon community of Beaver Creek in order to be vaccinated against the coronavirus probably just saw an opportunity they could not pass. They felt entitled to it. Being far too young to receive the vaccine legitimately at home and learning that there was a small village in the Yukon where the virus had made such ravages that the adult population was being vaccinated, why not fly in, pretend to be locally employed, receive their first shot, fly back home, all within a few hours? No quarantine either way and depriving two local people from their precious doses of vaccine. Anyone capable of conceiving such a plan for circumventing the rules must have thought themselves very clever and probably still fail to understand why we only see them as liars and thieves willing to further endanger a hard-hit community to serve their own interests.
These are confusing times for us all. The rules change from place to place and time to time within the same country, the same province. Those charged with enforcing them must sometimes be as confused as we are ourselves. But, surely, one thing is clear: anything that can potentially endanger those around us is wrong, such as large private parties, lax quarantine, refusal to wear masks. All are potentially dangerous practices but they also betray a sense of entitlement that finds its ridiculous extremes in faking videos to hide being away on holidays or in passing themselves off as local workers in order to steal vaccines from people who truly need them. Piddly crimes with serious consequences. Not to mention the terrible loss of face…
Random thoughts by an anthropologist on living in a time of upheaval.