"Liberty has a price. Today I paid for mine."
I was intrigued by this very dramatic tweet from Mr. Ron Schuler member of the Manitoba legislature for Springfield-Ritchot, after Premier Heather Stefanson removed him from her cabinet on December 30th. Although the premier did not give a reason for her decision it is widely believed, and Mr. Schuler’s tweet seems to reinforce this, that the former Minister of Infrastructure was ousted from his post because he refused to reveal his vaccination status. He had repeatedly stated medical information was personal, and it was his right not to make it public.
I wondered why Mr. Schuler had chosen the word liberty in his tweet. John Stuart Mill, a venerable source on the word’s meaning, said when he penned his famous book On Liberty in 1859, that liberty meant individuals ought to be free to do as they wish unless they are causing harm to others.
Was Mr. Schuler causing harm to others? If he hadn’t been vaccinated and had been encouraging his constituents not to be vaccinated a solid case could be made that he was deliberately causing harm. But was he causing harm by merely withholding his vaccination status?
Imagine the Conservative Party took to heart Mr. Schuler’s belief that citizens should not be forced to disclose their vaccination status. It would mean the elimination of all restrictions imposed on the non-vaccinated because no one would be required to reveal their vaccination status for any reason. Manitoba Health’s most recent data shows you are 26 times more likely to be admitted to an ICU if you are not vaccinated and 17 times more likely to die. The data makes it clear allowing unvaccinated people to gather without restrictions could cause enormous harm. And that is exactly what would happen if we accepted Mr. Schuler’s medical confidentially stance.
Another consideration is that Mr. Schuler is in a position of power, especially in his own riding where he is popular. His unwillingness to reveal his vaccination status could be seen as a way to avoid being forthright on an issue that could save the lives of some of his constituents who trust him and would follow his example if he were to publicly admit he was vaccinated. Stuart Mill in On Liberty notes that sometimes inaction is as harmful as action.
If we use the Stuart Mill definition of liberty then Mr. Schuler’s liberty has not been violated because his privacy position could lead to harm for others.
Mr. Schuler has not been arrested. He has not been removed from the Conservative caucus or banned from the legislature. His liberties have really not been compromised in any meaningful way. He chose to take a stance that was contrary to the official stance of his political party and was removed from an appointed position in that party because of it. The same thing would happen to any of us if we directly contradicted the policy of an organization that had admitted us to its ranks with the expectation we would follow its dictates.
Mr. Schuler is still at liberty to keep his vaccination status private, at liberty to run for the legislature again, at liberty to remain a Manitoba citizen, at liberty to avail himself of our health care system and at liberty to leave the Conservative Party. Exactly what liberties has he lost?
Despite his overly dramatic assessment of what his removal from the provincial cabinet signifies Mr. Schuler should not be viewed as some stalwart champion of liberty. He may want to consider what the word liberty means before using it again.