State of Academia

Empire of Fear: How the Pandemic Made a Canadian University Lose its Mind

Barry Cooper
June 17, 2022
As a lifelong academic, political scientist Barry Cooper believed the university had the means – and the duty – to lead government and society in the quality of reasoning it brought to bear on difficult issues. Like Covid-19. Instead, Cooper’s document-based review of the University of Calgary administration’s decisions and statements during the pandemic suggests that, far from carefully weighing evidence and reaching balanced (or even courageous) decisions, the leadership was governed by emotion, driven by impulse and willingly subject to the shifting whims of medical bureaucrats. Logic, evidence, rational risk assessment and even basic humanity were cast aside. Whatever one might think of the resulting policies, the paper trail Cooper examines is shocking for its banal thinking, atrocious writing, pompous condescension and immature emotionalism.
State of Academia

Empire of Fear: How the Pandemic Made a Canadian University Lose its Mind

Barry Cooper
June 17, 2022
As a lifelong academic, political scientist Barry Cooper believed the university had the means – and the duty – to lead government and society in the quality of reasoning it brought to bear on difficult issues. Like Covid-19. Instead, Cooper’s document-based review of the University of Calgary administration’s decisions and statements during the pandemic suggests that, far from carefully weighing evidence and reaching balanced (or even courageous) decisions, the leadership was governed by emotion, driven by impulse and willingly subject to the shifting whims of medical bureaucrats. Logic, evidence, rational risk assessment and even basic humanity were cast aside. Whatever one might think of the resulting policies, the paper trail Cooper examines is shocking for its banal thinking, atrocious writing, pompous condescension and immature emotionalism.
Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter

In 1967 Noam Chomsky published an essay, “The Responsibility of Intellectuals,” in the New York Review of Books. The celebrated leftist linguist and cultural critic named several academics and other public intellectuals who at the height of the Vietnam war had sold out to the mendacious liars in charge – the “best and the brightest,” as prominent war reporter David Halberstam later called them. Rather than expose my colleagues and administrative superiors to ridicule in the following essay, I do not name them. There is already plenty of contempt to go around. My concern is chiefly with their offices and their arguments because, at least in principle, these matters constitute the institutional structure of the university, which is still supposed to be a reasonable place. Other incumbents might have behaved differently, but you go with what you got.

We know that, in the wider world, discussed elsewhere, what we got is a collection of hucksters and con-men (and women). As in Chomsky’s day, the general problem remains: academics and “public intellectuals” are well-paid recipients of the gifts of intelligence and leisure, and so are expected to act reasonably and responsibly, but often they do not. In the present context, that means they are partly responsible for the moral panic that imposed two years of an evil, stupid and avoidable disaster on everyone. This essay discusses how it was done at the University of Calgary.

Moral panic: Members of the University of Calgary’s medical school were happy to provide the media with alarming quotations—one even linked anti-mask “misinformation” to “white supremacy”; mask mandates were imposed out of fear, not evidence. (Sources of photos: (top) The University of Calgary; (bottom) Shutterstock)

A quick overview of the cycle of foolishness emanating from the institution I’ve called my own for 41 years. Members of the university medical school often provided the media with alarming quotations. The media provided amplification for spreading the moral panic. Many of the remarks of “experts” were offered without evident awareness of growing scientific evidence regarding the actual effectiveness of so-called non-pharmaceutical interventions (like lockdowns and masking), or of pharmaceutical ones for that matter. One such expert was able to connect anti-mask “misinformation” to “white supremacy” protesters. At a time when a kid shooting hoops by himself in an Ottawa parking lot was fined $700, two political scientists advocated severe punishment for “rule-breakers.” Nearly every faculty member interviewed by mainstream media emphasized how scary and dangerous the whole Covid-19 event was, further stoking the fires of panic. Beyond this particular foolishness, the senior administration set its own goals and then enforced the means to attain them.

They began as soon as they were given a chance. On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the Covid-19 event to constitute a viral pandemic. The dean immediately issued an explanatory email: “This is a lesson in how interconnected we are as human beings [!] and how important it is to make early informed decisions.” (Sources for this essay consist of email traffic – about 3 inches high when printed out – from the administration, including the office of the president and other members of the “senior leadership team.” I also received the daily electronic news bulletin, called UToday, and a less frequent COVID-19 Update, later called COVID Communications, and other advice. Because I have chosen not to name individuals, I have also withheld specific titles, with one unavoidable exception, and departments because that comes too close to naming the individual.)

“An abundance of caution”: Just days after the WHO declared Covid-19 to be a viral pandemic, the university announced a move to remote learning, despite it being aware of “no cases of Covid-19 on campus.” (Source of bottom image: The University of Calgary)

Two days later “things were moving rapidly” but the dean was at work “to help ensure the safety of our university,” which in his opinion was under considerable threat. That same day the president announced a move to “remote learning,” which meant that students could no longer come to class and instructors must deliver lectures and hold seminars via Zoom. “We are taking this step out of an abundance of caution,” the president said. “I want to stress that we are aware of no cases of COVID-19 on campus, and Alberta Health continues to assess the risk to our campus to be low.”

Let me pause for a moment to remind ourselves of the damage caused by cancelling an entire year’s classes in the face of a risk which, in the president’s own words, involved zero known cases. Some interactions may go perfectly well via videoconferencing, but university education is simply not among them. This article, referring to Harvard and Princeton, called it “half-baked education at full sticker price.” Even leaving aside the chronic issues of wandering attention and flagging motivation, the often remarkable multilateral interactions of a live classroom can’t be replicated virtually. And university life is not just about the classroom. Campus social life is central to the undergraduate or graduate student experience. Students from time immemorial have often experienced their most significant and genuine learning amongst themselves, outside class. None of this is possible via Zoom.

On March 15, the dean issued the first of many emails sharing his opinions and experiences. Things may be tough, but “the leadership of the University of Calgary is driven by data and evidence and guided by the values of the academy during this crisis. We are well led.” (Emphasis added.) He then repeated the familiar cliché, “we are all in this together,” and followed it with some folksy advice: “Take care of yourself, take your time – even take a nap.” Later we were told the way to “get through this monumental challenge” included writing one another e-notes of appreciation at how well we were all coping (COVID-19 Update, March 30, 2020).

Infantilizing Advice: The administration had no shortage of folksy tips on handling social isolation—from celebrating digital Earth Day to sharing pictures of “work-at-home pets” to attending Facebook events; one missive reminded staff to take showers, brush their teeth and “Keep safe. Also, phone your mom.”

Then we were advised to celebrate Earth Day and take part in “digital Earth Day activities” (UToday, April 22, 2020). We were exhorted to join an “Engage with Arts Facebook group” and share pictures of our “work-at-home pets” (Arts Engage, April 24, 2020). We were advised to take showers, brush our teeth and practice “cyber hygiene” (UToday, April 14, 2020). The dean told us “to stay happy and healthy. Keep safe. Also, phone your mom” (email, March 22, 2020). Human Resources subsequently suggested that we “consider bringing a small plant to the office,” but only “if it is permitted” (HR News, July 20, 2021).

These administrators and “helping” groups showed no awareness that they were in any way infantilizing their academic colleagues, who otherwise would likely remember to brush their teeth and get enough sleep. The dean seriously told the faculty to “forget all that nonsense about Isaac Newton inventing calculus while at home from Trinity College, Cambridge due to the Plague. Give me a break” (email, March 30, 2020). His colleagues at UToday had a somewhat different idea. They did not advise re-inventing calculus at home, but they did point out that “coronavirus isolation is an opportunity to teach boys about toxic masculinity” (May 28, 2020). Following the science (a then-new term) seemed to lead straight to woke ideology.

On March 16, 2020, Neil M. Ferguson and his colleagues at the Imperial College, London, issued Report 9, dealing with the impact of non-pharmaceutical interventions in reducing the mortality of SARS-CoV-2 infections and in maintaining health-care capabilities. It was based on an obsolete and non-replicable computer model. Its alarmist prediction of 40 million deaths worldwide swept around the globe and began to warp decision making. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney translated the Imperial College data into as many as 1.6 million Albertans falling ill and 32,000 dyingin under two months! (Actual numbers two months after Kenney’s statement: 8,436 and 157, respectively.)

On page 15 of his Report, Ferguson wrote: “We find that school and university closure is a more effective strategy to support epidemic suppression than mitigation.” Though the Ferguson Report, so far as I know, was never directly cited to justify the imminent lockdown at the University of Calgary, its alarmist rhetoric was entirely compatible with administrators’ communications.

Neil M. Ferguson (right) at Imperial College, London, argued for school and university closures to fight the pandemic; his alarmist predictions swept the world and began to warp decision making. (Sources: (table) iedm.org; (photo) Thomas Angus/ Imperial College London)

On March 21, 2020, after two people in the med school tested positive for the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the president said the risk of infection was real but that we need not “unduly fear” entering a building that reported a positive case. “Take sensible precautions.” Such balanced advice ended the next day when he issued a follow-up “directive” for all faculty: work from home, “effective immediately.” A few exceptions were made for people whose lab experiments involved feeding rats, gerbils, guinea pigs or other critters. The rest of us were locked down and locked out, and stayed that way despite evidence very soon emerging that lockdowns were causing more harm than good.

By late March the U of C had its orthodox narrative set in stone for the indefinite future. First, the university is well-prepared to meet this major danger, thanks to its splendid leadership. Second, safety is our number one priority. There appeared to be no number two priority (hence the lockdown). Third, the leadership congratulated everyone (including themselves) for taking care of themselves.

Virtual isolation: Zoom lectures are highly unpleasant and can’t deliver the classroom and social interaction so critical for learning—one study called remote learning “half-baked education at full sticker price.”

Two observations: Zoom classes are highly unpleasant experiences for all concerned. As one observer said, it’s like paying for a theatre ticket and then watching the Netflix version streaming on a smart phone. Praising everyone may explain why there would be no public discussion of reducing tuition for students’ diminished education. (In fact, the university announced a tuition increase for that year, and the next.) For lecturers the actual workload increased – as several faculty complained to The University of Calgary Faculty Association (TUCFA).

No amount of verbal praise by administrators could change the reality of remote learning. Yet the praise continued. In his May 8, 2020 email, the dean said that the “teaching and learning administrative leaders,” the “teaching and learning professionals,” and the “teaching and learning specialists” all did an outstanding job in “transitioning” everyone to remote classes. These individuals were not the professors and assistants who delivered course content via Zoom and who did the actual teaching. They were the “learning technology coaches” familiar with various information technologies who enabled and directed the use of Zoom.

Moreover, there was no effort by the administration to consider alternate narratives to the wildly exaggerated and indeed erroneous Ferguson/Imperial College fantasy that was duly copied by medical bureaucrats from all around the world, including in every prominent Western country except Sweden. Still, the implication of Swedish exceptionalism is obvious: the response to the Covid-19 event was not dictated or determined by any medical threat; it was a choice made and sustained by bureaucrats, medical associations and boards, the media, international agencies, politicians and university administrators, among others.

Noted Stanford medical scholar John Ioannidis argued early on that the data available provided no guidance on the effectiveness of lockdowns; case rates, after all, were simply a function of how many people were tested. (Sources of photos: (left) Norbert von der Groeben/ Stanford University; (right) The Canadian Press/ Lars Hagberg)

Equally significant for North American policy makers is what they ignored. To take but one example, John Ioannidis, a Stanford medical school scholar whom The Atlantic once identified as one of the most influential scientists alive, argued in mid-March 2020 that the Covid-19 data were not sufficiently reliable to calculate infection fatality rates nor to provide guidance on the effectiveness of enforced agoraphobia, namely lockdowns, masking and physical distancing. To state the obvious: if you don’t know infection fatality rates you don’t know how dangerous the virus is. Case rates, which were widely cited, were simply a function of how many people were tested.

As the spring of 2020 wore on, it turned out that Ioannidis was not alone. Many other well-credentialled scientists discussed the assumptions and limits of the orthodox narrative. Some were technical; many were commonsensical, such as distinguishing between death from the SARS-CoV-2 virus and death with it (i.e., coincidental infection). Nearly all this analysis was ignored both by university administrators and by official knowers in the healthcare bureaucracy.

Historically, universities have been the sources of critical analysis of bureaucratically sanctioned science. Despite criticism by a few individual faculty members, however, the U of C position was identical with that of Alberta Health Services (AHS), the advice of which was devoutly followed by the Government of Alberta. This is why, as Peter Shawn Taylor said in the C2C Journal, not entirely facetiously, we really needed to lock down health officials.

Covid-19 would put great strains on our mental health, the university told us that first spring, and so they offered up an array of multimedia resources including a “gut health workshop” with “tips on mindfulness” and nutrition (UToday, May 14, 2020). Others dealt with the impact of isolation, loss of physical closeness, an increase in postpartum mood disorders, and a “new social etiquette” necessary because the effects of these policies “will be with us for many months and perhaps years to come” (Arts Engage, May 29, 2020). Human Resources provided advice on how to stop interrupting people in virtual meetings (HR News, August 2020).

Policies developed to counter these manifold dangers were summed up as “self-compassion” (UToday, April 15, 2020). Apparently, it is a term used in psychology, but its meaning is far from clear. “Compassion” literally means suffering with another. Self-compassion would then be suffering with oneself, which seems hard to distinguish from plain old suffering – with the addition, perhaps, of also feeling sorry for yourself.

Be afraid: University leaders frequently reminded people of the mental health challenges of social isolation, and urged everyone to practice mindfulness and “self-compassion.”

These challenges to “mental health” were seen as technical problems to be technically solved. Of course, some human difficulties do lend themselves to technical solutions – biochemically caused disorders, for example. But most human difficulties are not susceptible to technical solutions. Many are self-inflicted challenges to ordinary felicity. Some people like to be afraid and easily agree with authorized knowers who tell them they have every reason to be scared. Then they can suffer with a good conscience and scold everyone who fails to go along.

In fact, not everyone did go along. UToday explained (June 10, 2020) that “paradoxically, our Employee and Family Assistance provider is reporting a decline in service use.” The notion that people could cope with personal difficulties without professional assistance was impossible to contemplate. The notion that people somehow managed to avoid these experiences altogether was absurd. The “team lead” of “Well Being and Work Life at UCalgary” explained, “No problem is too small. No one should ever feel guilty for utilizing these services they are there for you.” A few days later, UToday repeated its appeal and attributed the low response rate not to individual courage, competence and common sense but to fear. “People dread asking for help from colleagues and strangers in the best of times,” it wrote. “Now that we are working through a pandemic, many of these fears are supersized” (June 15, 2020).

So far, too few people were actually feeling overwhelmed by SARS-CoV-2. Too many were irritated by responses to it. We were denying our “vulnerability,” UToday (June 12, 2020) explained, implying that feeling not so bad amidst a pandemic was itself a form of mental illness. The tacit message was: be afraid, take part in the moral panic, join everyone else and do what the splendid administrative leadership tells you to in order to receive their praise.

The anxiety agenda: The university’s Faculty Association strongly opposed the government’s decision to open up the province for the summer of 2021, and the university continued to embrace fear by stepping up efforts to coerce vaccinations for the fall term. (Sources of photos: (top) YourTube/ YourAlberta; (bottom) Helen Pike/ CBC)

It worked, and for some the fears evidently did grow supersized: 150 faculty accepted the Voluntary Retirement Incentive Program by May 2020, which meant big savings in salary expenditures. HR News (May 28, 2020) explained it was all about mental health: “In times of high anxiety, it’s more important than ever to safeguard your mental wellness.”

In addition, TUCFA, whose leadership ranks were sensitive to the concerns of its members, strongly supported the administration’s decision to work remotely and, later, would just as strongly oppose the decision by the Government of Alberta to open up the province during the summer of 2021. A 2021 survey of the university population showed that over half of the respondents were afraid they would become infected by SARS-CoV-2 and about the same number were concerned “that insufficient measures are in place to protect the University community” (UToday, August 9, 2021).

Despite what the president had said during the early days of Covid-19, that the university population was in little danger and that no one needed to panic (March 13, and 20, 2020), evidence gathered a little over a year later showed that the university population – and the president too – clearly rejected that sensible advice and joined the general moral panic gripping so many Canadians. By late spring 2020, in fact, the administration was poised to take advantage of a scared university population. The so-called crisis had become an opportunity to impose additional restrictive policies dealing with masking and vaxxing.

The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson coined the term ‘”hygiene theatre” to describe rituals meant to make you feel safe; wearing a mask, despite its ineffectiveness, became one such ritual. (Source of photo: The Atlantic)

On June 2, 2020, the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS) concluded that “wearing masks will not reduce SARS-CoV-2,” confirming a finding of several pre-Covid-19 studies of the effectiveness of masks in preventing flu transmission. The AAPS conclusion echoed a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine around the same time. Wearing a mask was just an expression of anxiety and “hygiene theatre,” as Derek Thompson called it. But none of the studies on the (in)effectiveness of masking was ever mentioned as relevant to the university’s decision (COVID-19/Update, July 29, 2020) to require masks for anyone entering any campus building as of August 1.

Once the mandate was declared, it assumed a life of its own. Like bureaucrats everywhere, university administrators never admit mistakes. Starting in September 2020 the focus was not on efficacy but on compliance. A COVID-19 Update (September 1, 2020) reaffirmed the masking mandate and added that non-compliance could result in (unspecified) “disciplinary action.” This reminder was repeated in every Update between September 2020 and July 2021, and again from the fall of 2021 until May 2022. It was supported by vocal members of the med school even though, by the fall of 2020, there were more than enough studies to indicate that masking was medically useless. The administration enforced the mandate because it could.

Like bureaucrats everywhere, university administrators never admit mistakes; in September 2020 they reaffirmed the masking mandate and added that non-compliance could result in (unspecified) “disciplinary action.” (Source of bottom photo: Riley Brandt/ The University of Calgary)

During winter 2021-22, the U of C decided to extend masking until the end of the winter term. No reason remotely connected to “science” was offered (indeed, the evidence against masking continued to pile up). Instead, it was doing so “to acknowledge previous commitments to students, faculty, and staff that masks will be retained for the duration of the current term” (UToday, February 28, 2022). That is: we made a decision earlier and we are going to stick with the decision because we made the decision. But as American literature professor George O’Har recently observed, “a characteristic of people who don’t know what they are doing is to double down.” The only consequence was to prolong the misery of wearers.

The masking campaign was but a dress rehearsal for the vaxxing campaign, which began in the spring of 2021. On March 19, 2021, the president responded to a statement by the Government of Alberta that encouraged all post-secondary institutions to prepare for a return to on-campus instruction in September 2021. The president said the university was “planning for a number of scenarios” which depended on the availability of vaxxes. On May 10, 2021, the Update “strongly encourages” everyone to get vaxxed along with “practising compassion towards colleagues and ourselves.” By July, a new source of anxiety had come into existence: not being locked out, but returning to campus.

Later that month, the sentimentalism of “practising compassion” had solidified into a strategy: “the biggest single factor in our ability to move beyond physical distancing on campus is vaccination” (COVID-19 Update, July 23, 2021). Vaxxing would overcome the anxieties associated with “the looming start to the Fall Term” (dean’s email, August 4, 2021). He lamented that “not all measures are available, including the mandating of vaccines.” On August 10, 2021, a presidential memo noted that because “vaccines protect us all,” vaxxing “has fundamentally changed the situation, but we are human [!] and the anxiety will remain for some time.” Moreover, the unvaxxed were to be regularly tested. It seemed even compassion had its limits.

The university extended mask mandates not because of scientific evidence, but because of a “previous commitment to students, faculty, and staff;” as American professor George O’Har put it, “a characteristic of people who don’t know what they are doing is to double down.”

On August 17, the dean informed the faculty that “some of the most active, passionate, and well-prepared advocates for greater measures [i.e., vaxx mandates] were members of our own [faculty] community. I am really proud of that.” (Emphasis added.) The next day the dean’s office informed the faculty that “testing of unvaccinated people and masking for all while on campus are mandated. Failure to comply will have consequences, just as there were for violating the masking policy when it was in effect earlier this year.” COVID-19 Updates (August 17, 2021) repeated these “new measures.”

Two days before the Government of Alberta rescinded the summer relaxation of the lockdown by proclaiming another public health emergency on September 15, 2021, the president issued his own proclamation: “We will be strengthening the role vaccinations play.” Specifically, all members of the university must be vaxxed by New Year’s Day, 2022. “The value of vaccination to combat COVID-19 has been established,” he wrote. “Vaccination is how we move past COVID-19 and is necessary to retire stopgap measures such as mandatory masking and regular rapid testing.” This new directive embodies “the logical progression” of the existing vaxx-and-testing “system.” Such “new measures” promise to make the campus safe. Besides, “rapid testing is an expensive – and temporary – solution.” He ended his message with a nice little jingle aimed at the unvaxxed: “Don’t delay – book today.”

Two weeks later, the dean was a bit less jaunty. “This is no longer an honour system,” he said in an October 6 email, “and there’s a team of auditors reviewing the proof that is submitted to ensure compliance.” That is, the administration doesn’t trust you, but you will comply. In addition to revealing the iron fist, the dean also shared his feelings. He was “exhausted and sometimes disheartened” by rising case numbers. His mental health had been “negatively impacted.” He then reported having taken a “self-check on risk of depression” and encouraged everyone to do so as well.

Code of Compliance: In December 2021, the university mandated proof of vaccination via the QR code and any faculty member who remained unvaxxed would be placed on leave; it was the “logical progression” of the moral panic that had swept the nation. (Source of photo: Liang Sen/ Xinhua via Zuma Press)

The final element that combined the “logical progression” of the president’s “Vaccination Directive” with the dean’s evocation of compliance auditors was conveyed on November 19, 2021, in COVID-19 Updates. Any member of faculty who remains unvaxxed “will be placed on a non-disciplinary leave without pay effective January 1, 2022.” This would happen even if you decided to teach remotely.

It was a big change. As late as August 2021 the administration was content to exhort people to get vaxxed. Three months later vaxxing was mandatory, not to say coerced, even as evidence was emerging that the vaccines were not as effective as hoped and claimed, and the epidemiological argument in favour of mass vaccination was becoming questionable. In December 2021, an Academic Labour Relations official declared that employees and students are required “to provide proof of vaccination via the QR code.” And the QR code can hold a lot more information than whether one has been jabbed.

Readers may have noticed that the administration consistently spoke of “vaccinations” whereas I (and others) have used the term “vaxx.” There are several reasons for this. The most important is that mRNA injections are vastly different than any previous vaccine. Traditional vaccines expose the body’s immune system to a target virus that has been attenuated so it is not dangerous to the person injected. The new vaxxes, initially called “novel gene therapies,”  were designed to generate an antibody response to a specific spike protein. Without getting into the virological weeds, the main reason vaxxes are questionable is because they were so quickly developed that the probability and severity of “adverse events” was unknowable.

These side effects can include Guillain-Barré syndrome, an autoimmune neurological disease, miscarriages and birth defects, heart problems, including cardiac arrest, myocarditis (heart inflammation), blood clots and strokes, severe skin reactions, eye disorders including blindness, Bell’s palsy or facial paralysis, shingles, tinnitus and other hearing disorders, anaphylactic or allergic shock, tumor growth, neuro-inflammatory disorders including multiple sclerosis, and appendicitis.

One conclusion seems obvious enough: as the title of a surprisingly sensible article in the Globe and Mail put it, “vaccines are a tool, not a silver bullet.” The university thought they were silver bullets. During the period when the university was planning its vaxx regime, studies emerged that questioned the usefulness and safety of vaxxing. The federal government has even set up a compensation program for those who suffer adverse reactions.

Most important, it is impossible to give informed consent to receive mRNA vaxxes. On September 14, 2021, Eric Payne, a physician at the Alberta Children’s Hospital in Calgary, sent an open letter to the Council of the Alberta College of Physicians and Surgeons discussing its proposal for mandatory vaxxing of all Alberta physicians by October 31, 2021. There was, Payne said, simply no long-term data based on which the effects of vaxxes might be evaluated. “It is because I am informed,” he said, “that I do not voluntarily consent to these injections.” More precisely, Payne was sufficiently informed about the lack of data not to consent. Obviously, without long-term data no one can know the long-term consequences of mRNA vaxxes. Thus no one can be sufficiently informed to give informed consent.

Voices of reason: Physician Eric Payne (left) argued that informed consent for vaccines is impossible when there is no long-term data on their effects; Julie Ponesse (right), an ethics professor, was fired for defending the right to refuse what amounts to non-consensual medical treatment.

But then, why does informed consent matter? Julie Ponesse, a professor of ethics and ancient philosophy at Huron University College in Ontario, was fired in September 2021 for raising just that ethical question. You might say she was fired for doing her job. In a later speech to the Democracy Fund, Ponesse first quoted Justice Sydney Robins of the Ontario Court of Appeal: the right to be free from non-consensual medical treatment “is a right deeply rooted in our common law.” Moreover, this position was embodied in the Nuremberg Code, drafted after the postwar trials of major war criminals.

Ponesse argued that to justify the violations of personal autonomy by compelling a medical procedure, the danger of SARS-CoV-2 would have to be very high; there would have to be no adequate treatment besides vaxxes, and these in turn would have to be demonstrably effective and safe. None of those conditions is met by the current situation. Ponesse then quoted an unnamed nurse: “Why do the protected need to be protected from the unprotected by forcing the unprotected to use the protection that did not protect the protected in the first place?” Ponesse’s answer was that, somehow, Canadians had become thoughtless, willing to obey government orders without raising questions. In this respect, the University of Calgary’s actions were typically, thoughtlessly, Canadian. But, as I’ve asserted, one should be able to expect better of a university.

To see where the U of C (and other post-secondary institutions) may be headed, let us summarize the foregoing analysis. For the first time I can recall, the dominant emotion in the university is fear – fear that was not combated by the administration, but actively fostered by it. Fear made faculty and students compliant, just as it did Canadians in general. The “logical progression” of university policy went from acquiescing to lockdowns, “transitioning” to technology-mediated classes via Zoom, to exhortation regarding masking and vaxxes, to compulsory masking and coerced vaxxing, all while ignoring contrary evidence.

During the Vietnam war, legal scholar Harry Kalven reminded everyone that “the university is the home and sponsor of critics; it is not itself the critic,” something the University of Calgary seems to have forgotten.

This “progression” simply followed the moral panic of Canadian society sponsored by health bureaucrats, agreed to by politicians, and magnified by the mainstream media. Despite the vigorous scientific debate regarding the significance of the Covid-19 event and the ample evidence that contradicted the policy choices by governments, the university administration (so far as I can tell) provided no critical analysis of those choices. On the contrary, the administration often sought even greater repressive measures then the Government of Alberta was willing to impose. To be blunt: the administration supported the growth of an authoritarian biopolitical security state in service to which citizens were treated as children and denied any expected Charter protections. It is no exaggeration to say that the university willingly abandoned one of its foremost historical roles.

To revert to my initial reference to Noam Chomsky, the task of members of the university, which includes the administration, is to understand rather than (as the dean put it) to take action. To quote another document from the Vietnam war era: following the student occupation of administration offices at the University of Chicago to protest the new draft eligibility rules, law professor Harry Kalven reminded everyone that “the university is the home and sponsor of critics; it is not itself the critic.” Even more, it is not the cheerleader for political fashions, however compelling they seem to be. It is certainly true that, on occasion, bad ideas and opinions have found a home on university campuses. The problem is made infinitely worse when they are advanced and imposed as the official ideas of the university.

Barry Cooper is a professor of political science at the University of Calgary. His latest books are Paleolithic Politics (2020) and, with Marco Navarro-Génie, COVID-19: The Politics of a Pandemic Moral Panic (2021).

Source of main image: Shutterstock.

Love C2C Journal? Here's how you can help us grow.

More for you

One Flew Over the Kangaroo Court, Part II: The System Invents its Own Jurisprudence

An encounter with a nearly incomprehensible, seemingly absurd and coldly indifferent judicial body offering no apparent hope of resolution would surely cause most citizens to give up in disgust. Gleb Lisikh is made of different stuff; being patronized and rebuffed only makes him dig harder. In this continuation of his now three-year-long legal Odyssey (Part I can be read here), Lisikh provides a firsthand account of the worsening dysfunction of Canada’s court system – and makes the startling discovery that activist human rights adjudicators are attempting to exclude millions of Ontarians from the protection of the human rights code.

Conservatism’s Greatest Canadian Teacher: What we can Learn from George Grant

Most everyone would agree the political movement led by Pierre Poilievre is not your parents’ Conservative Party. Then again, neither arguably was the government of Stephen Harper. Did the 50s-era populist John Diefenbaker embody “real” conservatism? For that matter, did Sir John A. Macdonald? One man who spent his life struggling to define Canadian conservatism and determine who measured up – and who fell short – was political philosopher George Grant. For Grant, conservatism was rooted in the pushback against the interconnected forces of liberalism, technology and the American superstate. Now, a group of (mostly young) conservatives have taken up the challenge of evaluating whether Grant himself knew what he was talking about, and how his ideas might be applied today. Barry Cooper examines their work.

Malign Neglect: What Calgary’s Water-Main Break Reveals about the Failure of City Government

The rupture of Calgary’s biggest water main revealed more than the problems of aging infrastructure. It showed a civic bureaucracy unable to provide basic services or fix things when they break, and a mayor eager to blame others and scold citizens for their selfishness in wanting city services in return for their tax dollars. Above all, it laid bare the increasing tendency of governments to neglect their core responsibilities in favour of social policy fetishes, and to sidestep accountability when things go wrong. Clear, competent, mission-focused public servants are a vanishing breed, writes George Koch, and governing a city is now mainly about keeping city workers, senior officials and elected politicians happy.

More from this author

Conservatism’s Greatest Canadian Teacher: What we can Learn from George Grant

Most everyone would agree the political movement led by Pierre Poilievre is not your parents’ Conservative Party. Then again, neither arguably was the government of Stephen Harper. Did the 50s-era populist John Diefenbaker embody “real” conservatism? For that matter, did Sir John A. Macdonald? One man who spent his life struggling to define Canadian conservatism and determine who measured up – and who fell short – was political philosopher George Grant. For Grant, conservatism was rooted in the pushback against the interconnected forces of liberalism, technology and the American superstate. Now, a group of (mostly young) conservatives have taken up the challenge of evaluating whether Grant himself knew what he was talking about, and how his ideas might be applied today. Barry Cooper examines their work.

Fortis et Liber: Alberta’s Future in the Canadian Federation

Canada’s western lands, wrote one prominent academic, became provinces “in the Roman sense” – acquired possessions that, once vanquished, were there to be exploited. Laurentian Canada regarded the hinterlands as existing primarily to serve the interests of the heartland. And the current holders of office in Ottawa often behave as if the Constitution’s federal-provincial distribution of powers is at best advisory, if it needs to be acknowledged at all. Reviewing this history, Barry Cooper places Alberta’s widely criticized Sovereignty Act in the context of the Prairie provinces’ long struggle for due constitutional recognition and the political equality of their citizens. Canada is a federation, notes Cooper. Provinces do have rights. Constitutions do mean something. And when they are no longer working, they can be changed.

In Case of Emergency, Read This! Alberta’s Covid-19 Report

Despite the wreckage wrought by the Covid-19 pandemic – social disintegration, ruined lives, physical and economic tolls – the governments and public officials who “managed” the emergency have been decidedly uninterested in assessing their performance. Except in Alberta, where a government-appointed panel just released its Final Report. Though predictably attacked by politicians, media and “experts” who can abide no dissent, the report makes many sensible recommendations, Barry Cooper finds. The report calls for emergency management experts – not doctors or health care bureaucrats – to be in charge when such disasters strike, with politicians who are accountable to the people making the key decisions. Most important, the report demands much stronger protection for the individual freedoms that panic-stricken governments and overbearing professional organizations so readily quashed.

Share This Story

Donate

Subscribe to the C2C Weekly
It's Free!

* indicates required
Interests
By providing your email you consent to receive news and updates from C2C Journal. You may unsubscribe at any time.