by Bruce O’Hara

November 16, 2022

It seems highly likely that once election month in America is finally over, the Republican Party will regain control of the US House of Representatives. We can expect, come January, that Republicans in the House will then convene some sort of public hearing process to evaluate the US Government response to the COVID pandemic. During those hearings we may finally get some answers as to how the Great COVID Panic of 2020 occurred.

To be effective, this review process must steer between two extremes.

One extreme is epitomized by the January 6th hearings. The Democrats set up a rabidly partisan get-Trump kangaroo court. Whatever opportunity there might have been to learn from what happened on January 6th was lost due to the utter absence of any objectivity, fairness or even genuine curiosity. The same thing will happen if Republicans try to turn any pandemic review process into a witch-hunt against Democrats.

The second extreme is that any review will come under heavy political pressure to rubber stamp the US Government’s COVID response.

We see that extreme being acted out currently in Canada in the legislatively-demanded review of the Trudeau Government’s invocation of the Emergency Act.

Though a fair amount of damning information has come out during that review process – particularly from police – the entire review process seems structured in a way that puts a heavy finger on the scales of justice. How often does the defendant in a trial get to choose the jury that will judge their case? I will be shocked if the final report of the Emergency Act Review gives the Liberal Government anything more than a token slap on the wrist. Again, structuring a review towards a predetermined outcome greatly limits how much learning can take place.

Though a good many individual Republicans disagreed with the more draconian aspects of the US Government’s COVID response, the majority of Republican Senators and Congresspersons either supported or acquiesced to such measures, particularly in the first year of the pandemic when Republicans were in charge.

The risk is that neither Democrats nor Republicans will want a thorough evaluation to occur, and the two Parties may collude to prevent that from occurring. We could end up with a we-did-the-best-we-could-at-the-time whitewash.

My sense is that those Republicans who most want a review to take place are as unhappy with their own Party as they are with Democrats, and will push for a thorough and relentless investigation regardless of who it upsets. That may be out best hope.

Though I suspect many of those most anxious for a comprehensive review are wanting something like justice – perhaps even revenge – there are better and more immediate reasons for such a review.

COVID is still mutating rapidly. There are a dozen or more new variants of COVID currently circulating. If we get a new variant that is some combination of more deadly, more infectious, or more prone to immune escape, we could easily see a new and serious COVID outbreak this year or next.

If a serious new outbreak occurs, we can expect a renewed pressure for lock-downs, for mask mandates, for school closures, and vaccine mandates/passports. (What’s more we can expect that early treatments like Ivermectin, HCQ, Fluvoxamine, and Vitamin D will continue to be either ignored or actively demonized.)

Our best defense against sinking back into a mindless COVID panic is the knowledge base that any comprehensive COVID review would generate.

Understanding the damage lock-downs did to the economy and people’s mental health will be a bulwark against shutting everything down once again.

Understanding fully the damage to children’s educational development caused by school closures will slow any rush to close the schools. Understanding how masks damage children’s language development will make educators more reluctant to force their students into masks.

We can hope that understanding the extent to which current and new variants are immune-escape – i.e., vaccines prevent neither COVID infection nor spread – will rein in somewhat the authoritarian urge to coerce others to be vaccinated. A balanced examination of the risk/benefit trade-offs associated with COVID vaccines might also cool somewhat the ardour of the pro-vax zealots.

Recognizing that we already possess an array of effective early treatments against COVID could save many lives in any future outbreak.

Canada also needs a full and impartial review. After the SARS pandemic in 2003, the Ontario Government set up a Royal Commission under Justice Archie Campbell to review and evaluate Governments’ response to the SARS pandemic.

Taking the review process outside Government freed it from political interference. The result was a thorough and impartial investigation which included a wealth of excellent recommendations on how Canada could best to respond to any future pandemic.

If we are to ever have a full and accurate accounting of what happened during the COVID pandemic in Canada, it will only come via an independent Royal Commission. I sincerely doubt that will happen so long as an invertebrate life-form is in charge of Canada’s New Democratic Party. But, who knows, perhaps at some point in the future, Jagmeet Singh will grow a spine.

PS: One of the first orders of business for any future Canadian Royal Commission on COVID should be to investigate how and why the Government of Canada so comprehensively ignored the excellent recommendations contained in the Ontario SARS Commission Final Report.

Were the lessons of SARS forgotten, or simply ignored? Did politicians pressure public health officials into abandoning long-established pandemic response plans? Did Canada just blindly follow the American lead? Given Canada’s experience with SARS, we should have done much better than we did with COVID. What the hell happened?