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Editor's column: Richmond pet store rant brings up subject of rights

Richmond News editor Eve Edmonds looks at the question of freedoms and rights, in the wake of a video published of a maskless woman ranting at a pet store employee
This woman filmed herself ranting at a pet store worker in Richmond after she refused to wear a mask

So about that Charter of Rights and Freedoms, it’s an important document for sure, but it seems some folks are throwing it around like a “get out of jail free” card.

The latest example was at a Bosley’s pet food store in Terra Nova where a woman came in maskless, demanding to be served. When the worker told her she had to either put on a mask or leave, she launched into a tirade, all caught on camera, calling the worker a “disgusting pig” and the “f***ing gestapo.”

Ironically, it was the customer herself who recorded the whole thing and posted it on social media. As someone in this household said, “why would she film herself looking like an idiot?”

 Good question. Although a caveat here — while we hear the customer’s rant and see the worker’s reaction, the customer never turns the camera on herself. I’m not sure if she’d be so bold in the spotlight.

Regardless, this woman certainly seems to think she’s fighting the good fight in the name of rights and freedoms.

As part of her rant she told the “missy” (that would be the worker) to do a bit of reading and tries to give the worker a copy of what the woman claims to be the Canadian charter, which she also claims gives her the right to come into a pet store to buy dog food — mask free — because she has a medical exemption.

The worker, understandably, had no interest in taking whatever was being thrusted at her, and the customer eventually left, ranting all the way.

It appears this woman was also at the centre of a video that went viral in December in which she refused to get off the Canada Line for not wearing a mask. Again, she cites the charter and her medical exemption.

None of this behaviour is acceptable, but about accommodations for people with medical exemptions, Bosley’s noted customers who can’t wear masks can order online or use curb side pickup.

So then what about this charter? Invoking its defence is a favourite among anti-maskers. In fact, some are welcoming tickets from provincial health authorities, saying the charter trumps provincial authorities and they will contest the ticket in court.

I’m not aware of any of these cases actually being heard as of yet, but I have read that many legal scholars believe that  provincial orders and local bylaws would survive a charter challenge under Section 1, which allows “reasonable limits” on individual freedoms.

Speaking of reasonable, I want to note that, despite the play a video like this gets, the vast majority of us are just that — reasonable. I was at Terra Nova Tuesday night and didn’t see a single person in Save-On or even in the parking lot without a mask.

Still, this question of balance between the rights of the individual and the interests of the group is a curious one, at least for some of us nerds. Perhaps it’s interesting because it’s never static. What may have once been seen as a threat to the health and wellness of humanity is now upheld as a basic human right — think gay marriage.

As we live in ever-more congested communities, we’re going to have to negotiate these tensions. Current COVID-related health orders are a no-brainer, but I suspect more orders are on the way as we face even greater health and environmental challenges.

Do I get to pave my lawn, for example, if it creates more pooling of rainwater, which creates more flooding, which requires more diking and a more robust sewer system, for which we all have to pay?

In the What COVID Can Teach Us playbook, lesson one is that we are a complex and integrated world. What’s happening in India right now can quite literally kill us in Canada.

This is the time to truly understand that rights go both ways, and your right to not wear a mask or pollute the environment, cannot trump my right to stay healthy.

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