Every day, a small group of British Columbians, including some healthcare workers, take to Twitter to warn of the consequences of the BC government’s approach to COVID-19.
The problems they raise are not lacking. They include, but are not limited to:
Healthcare workers who raise these concerns can be considered whistleblowers, even when they do so anonymously on Twitter.
Indeed, they are informing the public that their organizations are largely missing the mark in their response to the virus. But these whistleblowers have virtually no impact on public policy around COVID-19 in British Columbia.
There are a host of reasons for this, including politics, corporate lobbying, a poor appreciation of science in the media, a weak BC Liberal opposition, and the public’s collective desire to wish for an end to the COVID.
But there is another factor that some whistleblowers might not fully appreciate. More on that in a moment.
Passers-by remain silent
Over 20 years ago, I wrote an article on whistleblowing following the release of a Hollywood movie called The insider. This film, directed by Michael Mann, focused on a fired tobacco company executive, Jeffrey Wigand (played by Russell Crowe), who leaked information to a 60 minutes producer played by Al Pacino.
At the time, I interviewed a professor of business ethics at Simon Fraser University, Mark Wexler, who had just written a textbook called Confronting Moral Worlds: Understanding Business Ethics. It includes an illuminating chapter on whistleblowers, who are generally not authority figures.
According to this chapter, there are five participants in these situations. There is the whistleblower, the outlet for the complaint (in this case Twitter), the target (often Dr Bonnie Henry or Minister of Health Adrian Dix or Prime Minister John Horgan), the general public and the “bystanders” who could attract the whistleblower’s attention. .
Spectators can be professional organizations that have a vested interest in the issue.
In Facing the Moral Worldsthe author notes that they often determine whether the whistleblower succeeds or fails.
“When onlookers remain indifferent, the whistleblowing incident usually has a short lifespan in public attention,” Wexler writes. “When bystanders become morally outraged, chances are the whistleblowing process will generate a deep look at the organization and its activities.”
One such bystander is Human Rights Commissioner Kasari Govender, who wrote a letter to Henry on March 16 expressing concerns about the uneven effects of a “rushed” end to a provincial mask mandate.
The letter had no effect on Henry or Health Minister Adrian Dix.
Govender did not follow through by ordering a public inquiry under the British Columbia Human Rights Code, nor did she elaborate on her concerns in a major report to the legislature that includes scientific references and legal.
That means the BC government has dodged that bystander, at least for now.
There’s another Legislature officer who has been a silent bystander: Representative for Children and Youth Jennifer Charlesworth. Its mandate is to review, investigate and report on children “receiving reviewable services from public bodies”.
Under provincial regulations, this includes services or programs under the Youth Criminal Justice Act (including detention centres) and special needs services or programs provided or funded by the Minister responsible for the Child, Family and Community Services Act.
I suspect there is enough latitude here for Charlesworth to investigate how immunocompromised children in care are protected in public schools from COVID-19. These findings could then be made public in a report. But that didn’t happen.
A third viewer, BC Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie, wrote an account of COVID-19 outbreaks in care homes. He shed light on factors that were more common in larger outbreaks, such as the number of paid sick days, the number of registered nurses and the likelihood of problems when more people shared rooms.
But Mackenzie failed to address one of the fundamental concerns: the inability of health authorities to communicate how COVID-19 is spreading through the air.
Another spectator is the College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia. It licenses physicians, including the Provincial Medical Officer of Health and Chief Medical Officers of Health to various health authorities.
The college has taken no action in response to concerns raised by online whistleblowers about how these doctors may have failed to respond to new emerging scientific knowledge around the transmission of COVID-19.
Another onlooker is the BC Ferry Authority, which is “responsible for overseeing the strategic direction of BC Ferries in the interest of the public”.
The same can be said of the BC Ferry independent commission, which is also supposed to consider the public interest.
It is clearly in the public interest that ferry service be maintained along the coast of British Columbia. No one can dispute that.
But that’s not possible if too many crew members get COVID-19.
To date, the BC Ferry Authority and the BC Ferry Commission have not challenged BC Ferries management on their decision as an employer to end a mask mandate on their vessels, which will likely promote the spread of disease among passengers and crew.
Another onlooker is TransLink’s Mayor’s Council on Regional Transportation. It describes itself as “the collective voice of Metro Vancouver residents on transit and transportation.”
The council of mayors has remained silent as TransLink executives allow hordes of unmasked passengers to congregate in crowded transit vehicles, often with the windows rolled up, for extended periods.
Another bystander is the Law Society of BC, which has a legal duty to uphold and protect the public interest in the administration of justice by “preserving and protecting the rights and freedoms of everything people “. (Italics added.)
The attorney general is the firm’s official legal counsel, which whistleblowers say is undermining the human rights of immunocompromised people with its COVID-19 policies.
The Law Society of BC hasn’t exactly rushed to the ramparts to preserve and protect the rights of immunocompromised people in trying to hold the Attorney General accountable for any advice he might give to the provincial cabinet under its COVID policies. -19.
And it continues.
All of this suggests that anyone worried about the impact of COVID-19 on immunocompromised people needs to think about how to engage some of these bystanders.
We already know that Prime Minister John Horgan, Health Minister Adrian Dix, Attorney General David Eby and Dr Bonnie Henry are comfortable with the status quo, which leads to massive infection.
The same goes for Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon, who is expected to run for the leadership of the BC NDP. If Eby or Kahlon, for example, had a problem with this, they would have resigned from their ministerial positions several months ago.
So for the COVID Aware, one way to try to reverse government policies — to save more lives — is to exert some pressure on bystanders. They are certainly not lacking.