Anatomy of a public health risk: six minutes of a Danielle Smith interview

CHQR 1170 radio personality Danielle Smith began her July 29 show called “Making face masks mandatory is not backed by science or law” with an article called “When it comes to masks, there is no ‘settled science’”.

“There’s two sections I want to read from this because I think it will frame our discussion about the legality of what the (Calgary) municipal government is doing,” she said, referring to the mandatory mask law coming into effect on August 1 in the city.

“Here’s what the author, Chris Calton has to say about this,” she says before quoting from his article.

Smith doesn’t tell her listeners that Calton is an economic historian and not a medical professional. She also doesn’t mention that the “Mises Institute is the world’s leading supporter of the ideas of liberty and the Austrian School of economics,” rather than an institute supporting public health and safety.

The Austrian School of economics is a “body of economic theory developed in the late 19th century by Austrian economists who, in determining the value of a product, emphasized the importance of its utility to the consumer”, according to Britannica. Mask-wearing, as has been noted globally, protects others more than it protects the wearer, effectively rendering the consumer utility of such a mandate zero, in Austrian school-eze.

All of this was a preamble to the introduction of Smith’s guest, John Carpay, president of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF).

The JCCF has made a name for itself in Alberta over its constitutional challenges against the Alberta NDP government’s Bill 10, an Act to Strengthen GSAs (Gay Straight Alliances), and the University of Alberta pro-life group’s challenge against the University for placing additional security costs on the group to hold events. Recently, the JCCF launched a challenge against the UCP government for its Bill 10, the Public Health Emergency Measures Act, that allowed for individual Cabinet Ministers to change legislation without bringing it to the legislature for debate.

The latter move was seen as a bi-partisan public good, until it became apparent that the target was not newly introduced government policy but instead the powers afforded to the un-elected Chief Medical Officer of Health during a declared public health emergency – authority which has been in place since 1910.

The Alberta government has since agreed to consult with public health stakeholders through a Select Special Public Health Act Review Committee with an online submission form for recommendations for review.

Carpay, for his part, referenced an article in the New England Journal of Medicine published in April, but neglected to mention that three of the medical professionals involved have since said their work was taken out of context and that they never intended to discourage mask-wearing.

“The people who brought us the harm-causing lockdowns are the same people now wanting to make mask-wearing compulsory,” Carpay’s press release on July 25th said.

“The curve is flat, and has been for months. COVID-19 deaths peaked in March or April (depending on which jurisdiction) and now continue to decline, even while increased testing exposes ‘more cases’.”

The curve is not flat in Alberta where Smith’s radio show broadcasts, however, and at an average of 100 new cases per day for the last week, is both visually, and factually, ascending.

Credit: Robson Fletcher

COVID cases and hospitalizations were on a downward trend in May but began their ascendance in June and have been steadily increasing throughout July, belying Carpay’s stance. This was an easily verifiable fact Smith chose to ignore being that she referenced Carpay’s press release, entitled “Making face masks mandatory is not backed by science or law”, specifically.

“Now, I wanted to deal with the first part (of the press release) just so that we can get into the legal aspects of it; if you think I have missed anything, on whether face masks are endorsed by science, if you could fill in some blanks for me, John,” Smith asks of Carpay, who has a Bachelor of Arts in political (not health) science, and a law degree.

“I’m not saying that it’s conclusively unscientific, or useless, I’m saying that the debate is raging and as recently as June, the World Health Organization (WHO) stated that there’s nothing conclusive, there’s no conclusive scientific evidence to suggest that mandatory mask wearing, or mask wearing generally, is going to reduce the spread of COVID,” Carpay responded.

As of June 7, the WHO was recommending masks be worn in situations where people may not be able to physically distance.

“The use of masks is part of a comprehensive package of the prevention and control measures that can limit the spread of certain respiratory viral diseases, including COVID-19,” the WHO’s June 2020 release said.

“It appears to be kind of a political move to have all these mask-wearing bylaws now and my biggest question is why not March and April?” Carpay asked.

Because: science. The scientific method is legitimately trial and error, test and re-test. They research, they review, their peers review, and if results cannot be replicated by another team they are considered to be unproven. Replication, with similar results, are used to bolster the evidence for the reliability of a certain outcome.

Health officials – actual doctors who spend their time researching results from other studies – recommend masks.

Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, on July 23 – two days before Carpay’s press release – said that wearing masks “is critically important”.

But back to Carpay’s opinion since Danielle Smith believes that is what her listeners need to hear.

“Let me put one more argument on the table, because I keep getting people texting me saying ‘oh no, they’re improving their understanding; that over this period of time, we’ve done more science and we’ve realized they’re more helpful – we didn’t know that a few months ago’. What do you think of that argument?” Smith asks the political science grad, who laughs.

“Well, I think it’s very convenient but whoever was raising it, my question would be, ‘okay so show me the conclusive – no not conclusive – but the studies and reports and data that has emerged in the last two or three months – scientific reports that have emerged in the last two or three months, that are backing up this change in public policy,” Carpay responds.

As if she has no knowledge of what public health officials, actual medical professionals have said over the last two or three months, Smith accepts this easily disputable response and leads Carpay on to the legalities of mandatory mask legislation – something he is actually qualified to answer.

In less than seven minutes, Smith set the stage for biased and irrelevant opinion on public health and also encouraged an unqualified and factually deficient opinion to be given to her audience.

This isn’t a matter of “free speech” or “political correctness” – broadcasting uneducated, and easily debunked, opinion as worthy of public consumption should be deemed a public health risk and should have consequences.

Freedom of expression in Canada has limitations and the health and safety of the greater public should be the bare minimum for such a limitation.

This post contains a whole lot of fact – even if it hurts your feelings.

Deirdre Mitchell-MacLean is a political analyst physically distancing in Southern Alberta. Thoughts and prayers.

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