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The bug that moved a nation


Mallam Unmuzzled

If a small town like Kenora can get it right, years before the fact (2020 pandemic), why can’t we find the will and the way to do the same?

In the 1980s, I covered a story for Thunder Bay Chronicle Journal about a man with mental illness (the term then) who after being seen walking erratically down the street, ranting he must walk in “opposite rotation of the Earth,” entered the social services building.

There he was being helped by a young woman, Gwen Gall, when he became agitated, started yelling, and without warning, scrambled over the service counter. He then pulled a knife and stabbed her in the neck.

Shortly afterwards, on a follow-up story at the social services building, I saw that thick, plastic  shields had been installed to protect workers. Good, timely move, made by council in a small northern Ontario town over 30 years ago.

That response should have been replicated in  other Canadian cities, not just in some, and not just following a tragedy.

In March 2009, a CTV report notes that after the stabbing of a Chilliwack cab driver by a passenger, calls went out for mandatory safety shields in all taxi cabs.

There was a long pause in action. Why? Because of “concerns the protective barriers could send a negative message to visitors.” Huh? In my books, lives at risk trump social attitudes, people pleasing and the ever present Canadian preoccupation with image — being thought of as nice and accommodating.

Too little, too late response is also due to budget constraints, cutbacks, increased profit margins. That’s when the price tag of humans comes into play.

That brings me, unavoidably, to COVID-19.

How much time and energy was used up installing pieces of plastic in public places — protection that should be there in the first place — when that window of time could have been used elsewhere in the fight against the virus?

It took this disease to light the fire under the powers that be who responded in past weeks with protective shields for front line workers, doctors, ambulance drivers, etc. Then came shields for bank tellers, vendors, and others — with a speed, sense of urgency, and loosened purse strings rarely seen across this country.

Seemingly overnight, plastic walls were popping into place everywhere. To protect people against coughs and “moist droplets” that may spread the virus. Excellent. But where were the shields when the knives came out?

In response to COVID-19, Northern Health bus which transports medical patients living in smaller towns to/from UHNBC and to medical appointments in Vancouver, has installed thick plexiglass partial walls which separate driver from passengers.

But again, this safety feature should already be in place for all bus drivers who deal with sometimes unruly, unpredictable passengers, not just those carrying infectious diseases.

If it took COVID-19 to kick start these protective measures, then reluctantly, I would have to chalk one up for the coronavirus. While we may not be able to save all those who fall victim to the illness, we surely will save many others in the future from the human menaces in our midst.

The rage that escalates into violence and often morphs into a deadly rampage such as the mass killings in Nova Scotia recently will always be an unknown but looming threat. And no shields,  from medieval metal to plastic, can prevent loss of life.

But it is ironic, and almost ludicrous that it takes a microscopic bug to move a nation of human beings into action.

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